Friday, September 07, 2007

BC Announces New "Zero-Tolerance" Policy on Student Behavior -- Then Denies It!

At the last Boston College Task Force meeting on Tuesday, August 21, 2007, BC officials apparently presented their new (or updated) student behavior policy. The A-B TAB came through with a report on that policy.

I hadn't blogged on it for a few reasons:
  1. I didn't attend the meeting, being away on vacation;
  2. BC provided an online copy of their presentation [PDF] made to the task force meeting, but that document nowhere states what their student behavior policy is, meaning that the policy was only presented verbally (if at all) at the meeting;
  3. The TAB reporting seems confused about who has a "zero-tolerance" policy towards student behavior -- BC or the Boston Police Department [see below];
  4. BC was planning on notifying the students of the behavior policy, so a written notification could provide clues and insight; and
  5. I wanted to talk to some residents who attended the meeting to figure out what was actually said.
Thursday we find out that lots of people, including students at BC, are confused about the BC student behavior policy. I was not alone in my confusion.

Confusion Over BC's Student Behavior Policy

It is now abundantly clear that BC's student behavior policy is unclear.

BC's student newspaper, The Heights, reports today in an article titled, "Off-campus Policy Causes Confusion", that nearly every action spelled out in the BC Task Force meeting on August 21, 2007 is just a continuation of existing BC policy. I am not making this up! Nearly everything is unchanged from before, according to The Heights:
University officials purport that there has been no change to BC policies and that there were inaccuracies in an Aug. 22 Allston-Brighton Tab [sic] article.
That sounds to be in line with how BU's The Daily Free Press is reporting it:
"There was a misperception among students that somehow BC was encouraging Boston police to arrest students," said BC spokesman Jack Dunn. "Nothing could be further from the truth. . . . We are reminding our students that if they break the law in the neighborhoods, they will be held accountable."

Students say they do not understand the policy's logic, though, and are even calling the new initiative hypocritical.

"It's really absurd for a university to target its students," said sophomore Charlie Mangiardi, creator of a group opposing the policy. "BC prides itself on how well it takes care of its students, so to then go out and say that to please their neighbors they are going out to arrest us, that's just infuriating."
Here is a list of elements of the student behavior policy that are not new:
  • Boston Police Arresting Students:
    "The manner of the conversation was my attempt to warn students about an ongoing yearly event. Boston Police comes in and makes sweeps of problem neighborhoods at the beginning of every year," [BC Police Chief police chief Robert] Morse said.
    See also the quote [above] from Jack Dunn: "There was a misperception among students that somehow BC was encouraging Boston police to arrest students."
  • BC Hiring Boston Police Details:
    "BC has been hiring Boston Police to supplement the normal neighborhood patrols every year," [Morse] said.
  • Deputy Sheriff Powers: BC Police appear to have had these powers within Suffolk and Middlesex Counties for several years.
What is the one thing that is new, according to Morse?
"The new thing about the supplemental patrols has been the addition of one BCPD officer to the patrol in problematic [areas]," Morse said.
There is actually one other new policy this fall: off-campus student liaison Steve Montgomery will be working Thursday nights (PDF, see page 8), in addition to Friday and Saturday nights.

Basically, the article in The Heights contradicts several of the points raised in the article in the Allston-Brighton TAB. My summary of their "new" policy on student behavior: staying the course, but having one BC Police officer join BPD officers in a joint patrol.

At the BC Task Force meeting, did BC really pitch the student behavior policy as something new? You would think that based on one official's comment:
“We are sending a message, setting the tone, and we want to see how this works,” said BC’s vice president of [government and] community affairs, Tom Keady.
Yet "BC officials" (presumably Dunn and/or Morse) convinced the student newspaper that nothing but the joint patrols is new. And they are trying to backtrack on BC police chief Morse's comments at the meeting:
“Zero tolerance means they’ll be arrested,” Morse said. “We’re hiring Boston Police to arrest students.”

What Was Actually Seen Over the Weekend

Morse's new claim -- that this policy is nearly unchanged -- doesn't exactly jive with what neighbors and students saw over the weekend:
  • Several university officials were walking the neighborhood in the afternoons of Thursday-Saturday;
  • BPD cruisers were parked in the area and often seen driving down nearby access streets (this is an historically uncommon occurrence, according to neighbors); and
  • Groups of BPD officers -- as many as seven or eight at one point on Radnor Road! -- were seen on foot patrol in the areas of off-campus undergraduate housing.
There was one report of undergraduates who were worried by the visibly-increased police presence, while several neighbors report that they are waiting until after the next few weekends (now that the students' parents have left) to see if there is any change.

Several neighbors tell me that this police presence is an increase from the past, which appears to contradict Dunn and/or Morse's assertion that nothing is new except one extra BC police officer on the patrols.

Confusion Over the Meaning of "Zero-Tolerance"

While the A-B TAB reported BC's policy as "zero-tolerance" for poor student behavior, that doesn't sound like an accurate description of the actual policy:
Any student arrested is put on university probation, and another incident will result in a one-year suspension from the school, [interim Dean of Students Paul] Chebator said.
BC's new rules are that one arrest results in probation, two arrests in suspension, and three arrests in... unspecified, I think, but presumably expulsion. That sounds like a "three-strikes-and-you're-out" policy, not "zero-tolerance." "Zero-tolerance" would mean expulsion after only one arrest. A decade or so ago, "three-strikes-and-you're-out" was the phrase on everybody's lips (to deal with repeat offenders in California), while "zero-tolerance" is a term more popular in recent years.

BC Police Chief Robert Morse clarified: "zero-tolerance" is a reference to arresting off-campus students at disruptive parties, rather than just breaking up the parties and sending them home.

So this is what it means:
  • BPD Captain Genevieve King is pushing a "zero-tolerance" policy towards student party houses in arresting students rather than simply breaking up parties.
  • BC is pushing a "three-strikes-and-you're-out" policy towards student off-campus behavior, with an interim "two-strikes-and-you're-suspended" policy.

Student Concerns and Push-Back

It sounds to me like BC is sketching out to the neighbors a broad crackdown on off-campus student behavior, but is denying it when talking to the students. What a dance!

The truth will come in the next couple of weeks: if there are widespread arrests by BPD at a particular party house, then we'll know that BC is encouraging BPD's policy; if not, then it will all be smoke-and-mirrors with the neighbors.

I bet BC gets a lot of push-back from the students on a policy that could seem Orwellian to them. Expect to see letters, op-eds, and editorials in the student newspaper, The Heights; anger directed at neighbors perceived as the instigators; parents steaming mad when students call for bail money and explain their sudden return home following suspension; etc. In fact, we are already seeing some of it: 200 BC students have signed a petition and delivered it to BC President Leahy.

The larger situation of off-campus behavior -- a conflict between the neighbors and the students -- may get worse before it gets better.

What Is Going On At BC?

Why is BC taking this giant leap into possible wide-spread arrests of their students? Most likely the combination of the past year being the worst in the past five for unruly student behavior off-campus (according to BC VP Thomas Keady, Jr., at the May 15 BC Task Force meeting) and BC's desire to get a new institutional master plan approved by the Boston Redevelopment Authority -- an IMP that still would leave many undergraduate students living in off-campus houses. If BC officials think that cracking down on student behavior will lead to the neighbors acquiescing on the proposal for undergraduate dorms on the former seminary land, then I think they are quite wrong.

My prediction is that the community will welcome the BC administration taking a more active and aggressive role in dealing with off-campus student behavior, but will not back down on housing all the undergraduates on the Main Campus. I'm not sure that BC's new student behavior plan, however, is exactly what the neighborhood -- or the police -- would have preferred.

In July, new Captain Genevieve King of BPD D-14 told me she considered it to be stronger punishment to suspend students, rather than arrest them; apparently, students have been arrested many times in the past without their parents finding out, but once they were suspended the parents found out and all hell broke loose. I too have heard students complain vehemently about parental notification, so Captain King makes a convincing point. It is quite conceivable that BC could crack-down on the behavior without hiring any BPD police details, making student arrests, seeing the cases through the Boston Municipal Court system, etc., if BC's "zero-tolerance" policy instead consisted of immediate suspension for unruly behavior off-campus. Quite simply: BC could solve the problem if they had the resolve, but it is obvious they "don't want to go there." It is a university, after all.

The new plan may be a good move, nonetheless, and bodes well for improved town-gown relations in the future. We'll see how effectively this program -- whether or not it is new -- can be implemented.

1 comment:

Enzo said...

I think there would be some utility in reducing the drinking age, so these kids could have their parties on campus.


Albania No minimum age
Austria 14
Denmark No minimum drinking age
Finland No minimum drinking age
France 16 (beer, wine
Germany 16 (beer, wine
Hungary No minimum age
Italy 16
Poland No minimum drinking age
Portugal 16
Romania No minimum drinking age
Russia No minimum drinking age
Spain 16
Switzerland 16
United Kingdom 5 (on private property with parental consent)