Enforcing the Alcohol Ban

carrie nation

The Review is curious to learn how the College plans to enforce the ban, short of a bottle-smashing rampage a la temperance icon Carrie Nation.

Even before President Phil Hanlon ‘77 took the stage on January 29, to announce the details of the Moving Dartmouth Forward (MDF) plan, rumors were flying around campus that it would include a hard alcohol ban. Once confirmed, the ban quickly became known in news reports of MDF as a flagship reform of a plan to shift Dartmouth’s culture away from “extreme behaviors” and “exclusivity.” Reducing hospitalizations by cutting down on mass consumption of demon rum is certainly an admirable goal, but the path of implementation the College has chosen has issues – one important question raised by the announcement is that of enforcement: if, as the MDF website declares, “There is no place for excessive drinking or drug use on our campus,” how will the administration stop it? On this, the actual steering committee recommendations are unclear. The section on alcohol policy advocates that it “apply to all, regardless of age [emphasis in original],” on the “undergraduate campus,” including twenty-one-year-old students and alumni. However, the Committee’s plan fails to tackle the thorny issue of how the ban will be enforced, apart from a call for vague “sanctions” to be placed upon recalcitrant students and organizations. Information on President Hanlon’s MDF page is also vague; a line in the Frequently Asked Questions section mentions plans to make changes “allowing College officials to enter a student-occupied space if there is a suspicion of alcohol, drugs, or weapons [emphasis added].” As Dartblog author Joe Asch notes, this appears to be a shift away from the Office of Residential Life’s currently policy, which empowers Dartmouth employees to enter rooms to “investigate probable violations of College regulations [emphasis added].”

While starting a battle over this choice of words may seem like nitpicking, the vocabulary is reminiscent of “probable cause” and “reasonable suspicion,” terms used in the context of police searches. Of the two, “probable cause” is a stronger threshold, allowing law enforcement to obtain search and arrest warrants under the Fourth Amendment — it is the level of evidence where a “reasonable person” would have reason to believe the suspect committed a crime. “Reasonable suspicion” is a lower threshold of confidence where a “reasonable officer” might suspect that a crime may be occurring, allowing officers to detain people for a “stop and frisk.” Of course, alcohol consumption is not a felony, nor the officers of Safety & Security a CSI-esque crime-fighting force, but it is telling that the College may be choosing to lower its evidence standards for searches. The October 27, 2014 issue of The Dartmouth Review featured a piece by Phi Delta Alpha president Taylor Cathcart ’15, who chronicled several stories of unlawful searches and abuses of power that Safety and Security and the Hanover Police have committed in the past; while we recognize that such behavior is the exception and not the rule, we find the possibility of more stringent enforcement methods to be concerning from a civil liberty standpoint.

That is only one troubling aspect of the ban – another is the lack of detail given to the public after the announcement. The Dartmouth Review reached out to George Faux ’84, Phi Delt’s house advisor, to discuss the College’s alcohol policy. Faux participated in a GLOS (Greek Letter Organizations and Societies) meeting on Friday, February 7, with other house advisors to discuss what was occurring in committees set up in the wake of MDF; in particular, the Hard Alcohol Committee. While Faux expressed support for President Hanlon’s “good intentions,” he expressed concern that the committee’s work was “short on details … It seems odd that they would, having gone through this long and involved process, [try] to force-fit this thing through in a few weeks with little feedback.” According to Faux, the original call for committee members included students, administrators, and faculty, but not alumni — a rather large omission, considering the amount of accumulated knowledge that could be drawn upon (the steering Committee had included alumni.) A Dartmouth Now piece published on Thursday, February 26 announced that the chairs of the Hard Alcohol Committee were selecting members from an applicant pool to form the group’s main body, almost a month after President Hanlon announced the MDF proposals.

The vagueness extended to actual policy recommendations as well. Faux mentioned that the committee at the time had much work to do in hammering out the details of the myriad proposals involving the enforcement of the hard alcohol ban and changes in event registration in Greek houses. “There is no clarity yet as to which populations will be covered and which won’t. The idea is that they are effectively extending residential status to privately owned houses. How is that going to work? … We supported the notion of thirdparty security and bartenders, but … this is an insurance liability. Are you going to train these people? Are they insured under the College’s umbrella? How do you access these people if you’re registering an event for a big weekend or on the fly? Obviously, these are things that can be dealt with, but it seems like it’s going to be hard to deal with the details of these things in the short time they’ve given themselves.” The Hard Alcohol Committee’s lack of policy to present was confirmed when Chief Harry Kinne of Safety and Security declined the Review’s request for an interview on the new policies — the reason given was that the policies were “still in development.”

This dilatory approach to formulating important policy is a major concern. As Faux mentioned, this cuts down on the amount of feedback that the College can receive in making its decisions. It is strange that the policies are being rushed through – the steering committee had approximately nine months from its inception in the spring of 2014 until President Hanlon’s announcement at the end of January to talk with experts and discuss alternative plans. The Hard Alcohol Committee is just now forming, and has until the beginning of Spring term on March 28 to present its decisions on enforcement. This amount of time entails finals week and interim, a period in which students will not be on campus to review the Committee’s proposals. Ironically, the College is mirroring the behavior of the Freedom Budget protesters last year — after their manifesto, published at the end of February, did not receive what they considered a timely response, they barricaded themselves in President Hanlon’s office until then-Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson agreed to have their demands notarized.

Interestingly, the College may find an example of alcohol policy in the Hanover Police. This may be surprising to longtime observers of Dartmouth student-Hanover Police relations, but the situation has changed with the inauguration of Chief Charlie Dennis. In January 2015, he confirmed a change in enforcement policy: students sent to Dick’s House for alcohol-related incidents would not be arrested unless they behaved violently. Students were previously also sent to the Hanover alcohol diversions program, which charged them $400; this program has been discontinued, with violent alcohol offenders now being referred to the Valley Court diversions program, which charges $275. When The Dartmouth Review reached out to Chief Dennis on the subject, he cited price, safety, and community as factors that influenced the decision. When a student is in the care of doctors at Dick’s House, “I don’t think that’s where police should be getting involved in an interfacility transfer.” Having a more lenient alcohol policy makes it more likely that “may get more people under the Good Samaritan [policy] — get their friend to Dick’s House without worrying about the enforcement part.” In addition, the Hanover Police have made strides in reaching out for input — under Chief Dennis’s watch, they have held two “Coffee with a Cop” events to discuss community issues, a stark contrast to the secretive manner in which MDF was framed and how its enforcement policies are being laid out. From the information gleaned, it appears as though the College is on a frantic search for ways to enact its hard alcohol ban and new Greek event policies before they go into effect at the beginning of spring term. Much ink has been spilled over the Prohibition-esque issues that may arise from the ban, but the Hanlon administration’s hasty decision-making may lead to a worsening of the problems it seeks to solve. At best, attempts to improvise new regulations will be ineffectual (take, for example, one federal budget from the 1980s, which was drafted so quickly that a phone number scrawled in the margins was taken for a seven-figure expenditure and spent by a department before Congress realized its mistake); at worst, regulations that prove too onerous or intrusive will dismantle all of the goodwill that President Hanlon sought to create through MDF.

Joshua D. Kotran also contributed to this report.