Rounds Roulette

UGA

The role of the UGA: helpful, friendly mentor or authoritarian, feared policeman?

During the last few weeks of last Winter term, rumor spread around campus that a new policy, consistent with other recent Moving Dartmouth Forward (MDF) initiatives, would require undergraduate advisors (UGAs) to conduct “rounds” more frequently. During rounds, UGAs patrol their respective residential clusters. Rounds are ostensibly to ensure the safety of each cluster’s residents, but are widely understood by students as intended for UGAs to find, stop and report violations of the student conduct policy — particularly alcohol and drug use violations. Rounds currently are conducted only once per term during Homecoming, Winter Carnival and Green Key weekends, respectively. The rumored new policy would require UGAs to conduct rounds every week on Wednesday through Saturday nights, not coincidentally the nights when students are most likely to drink alcohol.

The purported new rounds policy was met with an immediate and almost uniformly negative response from the student body. The hard alcohol ban announced as part of MDF in January was arguably the most controversial element of MDF and received the most national press attention. Its announcement prompted many to speculate that banning hard alcohol at fraternities and other gatherings would drive students to drink hard alcohol in the privacy of their own rooms before heading out — often referred to as “pre-gaming”. Against this backdrop, students widely interpreted the new rounds policy as an attempt by the college administration to make UGAs the enforcers of the hard alcohol ban in individual dorm rooms through the threat and reality of surprise inspections by UGAs and UGAs reporting violations to the college administration.

In addition to the overwhelmingly negative response from the student body as a whole, the reaction of UGAs themselves to the new rounds policy has been strikingly negative, and presumably something of a surprise to the administration. More than 50 UGAs signed a petition listing their objections to the new policy. These objections include UGAs having to work additional hours to conduct rounds without an increase in pay. The signees also expressed concern that the new policy would hinder UGAs’ ability to be community facilitators and carry out the more important aspects of the job.

Conversations with current UGAs confirm that they resent the additional responsibilities without additional pay. UGAs also express dissatisfaction that they were not involved in formulating the new policy. According to one UGA ’16, who chose to speak anonymously: “[The new rounds policy] was created largely without consulting the UGAs. It seems like it was pushed through quickly.”

The main objection of UGAs, however, to the new rounds policy is that it will dramatically increase their time spent policing versus counseling and advising. UGAs perceive that becoming viewed as policemen and snitches will negatively alter their relationships with their residents. UGAs are particularly concerned that the new policy will undermine their primary function of providing guidance on academic and personal issues, especially to freshman making the difficult transition from high school to college. “The least fun thing to do as a UGA is to break up a pregame, or to say ‘pour that out, you can’t do that’. And this just increases the amount that I do that” offers UGA Taylor Watson ’16. Another ’16 UGA, who opted to remain anonymous, echoed the thought: “The primary concern with rounds is it fundamentally changes our relationships with the students. It would damage the relationships UGAs build with the residents, from one of guidance to just policing them.”

Earlier this week, at the UGAs’ termly meeting, it was announced that the new rounds policy was not finalized and would not take effect during the Spring term. The new plan is for UGAs to consult with the administrators from the Office of Residential Life to design the contours of a new rounds policy over the course of the Spring. A pilot program will then be launched this summer to test the resulting policy, which will only be fully implemented in the fall. Although the administration has not publicly acknowledged any connection between the negative reaction of students and UGAs and the administration’s decision to reconsider the new policy, most students consider the causal connection to be obvious.

The administration’s decision to delay the rounds policy and now seek UGA input stands in stark contrast to the administration’s handling of the formulation of MDF’s hard alcohol policy. From the perspective of students, the hard alcohol policy was adopted in a hurry and with little student input and engendered overwhelmingly negative reactions among students. However, the college administration did not show any signs of reconsidering or tempering the policy in the face of negative student reaction. The administration’s relative flexibility with regard to the rounds policy as compared to the hard alcohol policy may reflect the their view that the hard alcohol policy is simply a non-negotiable cornerstone of MDF, irrespective of students’ reactions. It may also reflect the public relations difficulties and embarrassment that the administration would face if it reconsidered or softened the hard alcohol policy after its announcement received such widespread attention among alumni and the national media. Most likely, it reflects the fact that while the hard alcohol policy can be imposed over student objections and without student buy-in, implementing a new rounds policy that turns UGAs into enforcers of the hard alcohol policy will fail if students in general, and the UGAs in particular, do not largely accept the new rounds policy.

As administrators and UGAs discuss the new rounds policy this spring, one consideration will be the impact of the policy on future UGA applicant pools. Most Dartmouth students already devote countless hours to their classes and extra-curricular activities and many may not be able to fit a more demanding UGA job into their schedules. One current UGA disagrees: “It’s a valuable job and it pays, so no matter what, people will apply for it.” Yet even if a new policy does not diminish the size of the applicant pool, a new policy may change the composition of the applicant pool. Upper class students who are more interested in taking on an authoritative role may now be more attracted than those who are more interested in counseling and advising responsibilities, or those who are simply looking for a job.

It is likely that the final rounds policy will differ substantially from the originally announced policy that drew widespread contempt. For example, the originally proposed rounds on Wednesday through Saturday nights could be cut back to perhaps just two specified nights per week or perhaps two nights selected at random by individual UGAs from among Wednesday through Saturday nights. In addition, the potential hours for rounds were widely speculated to be between 10pm to 2am. These hours might be narrowed to more specifically target the hours when most pre-gaming occurs. “It’s not like we don’t know when pre-games are happening; nobody is pre-gaming at two in the morning” says Watson. Any discussion of the days and hours during which rounds will or may occur will of necessity involve deciding what the policy is really meant to accomplish. If it is meant to dramatically curb pre-gaming by detecting, reporting and punishing hard alcohol violations, then a rounds policy that gives students advance notice of the specific, limited days and hours when rounds may occur will be easily circumvented by students who will just avoid pre-gaming during those times. On the other hand, while a policy of surprise rounds at random times on any day will more strongly deter pre-gaming, it would do so at the cost of creating much more of a police state culture in the dorms. Yet some form of rounds may be the only plausible way to successfully implement the new hard alcohol policy. As Watson notes: “One of the main things about the [hard] alcohol policy that has been seen in other schools where it’s been successful is that consistent, present enforcement is key to making it work.” Watson may just be right. Colby College in Maine also has a hard alcohol policy, but students know that safety officials and RAs do not go out of their way to enforce it. Matt Hughes, a freshman at Colby, offered his point of view on how his school’s hard alcohol ban has on student drinking habits: “It’s effective in preventing kids from drinking hard alcohol in public, and encourages the drinking of wine and beer, but ultimately if kids want to drink hard alcohol they most certainly do it”. Whether the effect of Dartmouth’s hard alcohol policy will be similar, or more profound than Colby’s, is yet to be seen, but the results may hinge on the outcome of this policy.

Discussions about the rounds policy this spring also are going to have to address whether UGAs will be responsible only for telling students to stop drinking or whether the UGAs will be obligated to report any discovered violations to administrators with the offending students then being exposed to discipline. It is also possible that the final policy will adopt a middle ground giving UGAs the discretion to decide whether or not to report a violation that a UGA discovers. But do the administration and the student body as a whole, and the UGAs themselves, want UGAs to be put in the difficult position of deciding the fate of fellow students on matters involving serious potential disciplinary consequences? While much remains to be determined, two consequences of the final rounds policy seem assured. First, a policy that involves mandatory or discretionary reporting by UGAs to administrators of discovered violations of the hard alcohol policy will fundamentally alter the relationship between UGAs and their residents as well as dorm culture generally. Second, any student hosting a pre-game in his or her room beginning next fall could be playing a game of “rounds roulette”. Dartmouth students tend to be immensely concerned with their futures and can be very rational decision-makers when confronted with evaluating the odds and consequences of being caught violating rules. Given that even a first offense of the hard alcohol policy warrants probation, how many Dartmouth students will be willing to place their bets in rounds roulette?

William C. Hill also contributed to this report.