I am confused by the CAMPUS these days.
Take, for instance, its recent editorial (in the Sept 24 issue) on the CORE survey that the office of Health Education and Wellness administered last year. After questioning the validity of the survey data—suggesting that Middlebury students drink less than some might imagine—the editors say they are troubled that the administration is using the data to “shape” (does that mean “spin”?) “changing alcohol policies on campus.” They continue in high dudgeon to declare that the “fact that Old Chapel seems to be making crucial decisions on the basis of such flimsy data is nothing if not irresponsible and illogical.” Much depends here on the word “seems,” as it allows the editors to hypothesize a claim that they never substantiate—it MIGHT be a “fact,” right?—and then roundly condemn the administration’s alleged decision-making.
The news story on the subject treats this “fact” with more caution, noting that the CORE survey “supports an administrative position that while alcohol plays a major role in campus situations, a larger portion of the student body does not use it, or uses it in a limited quantity.” That’s okay, but what’s troubling is that while the article begins on the front page with the headline “Survey questions drinking habits,” it continues on the third page under the heading, “Athletes face greater scrutiny after survey.” The problem here is that the article says nothing about there being a link between the survey and the conduct of athletes; what’s more, the CORE survey, doesn’t even address the supposed connection. But there is that headline, reinforcing the editorial’s conspiratorial claim that the CORE survey is being used to shape alcohol policy on campus.
The CAMPUS editors complain that administrators “cannot seem to make up their minds about whether or not Middlebury has an alcohol problem,” and accuse them—well, us—of cynically parsing the realities of campus life: “Depending on what suits their particular agenda at a given time, our campus is alternately seen as either a buculoic haven for those seeking to break free from the traditional, alcohol-centric college setting or a cesspool or irresponsible, dangerous and immature binge drinking.”
What puzzles me about this critique is its assumption that only one reality can describe social life at Middlebury, and that we must be of a single mind about how students drink or don’t drink at the College. The editors don’t explain why the characterizations mentioned above can’t coexist. Stuck on their own agenda, they return to their obsession with the survey’s “ultmate impact” on College alcohol policies. But it seems to me that their insistence on one truth denies both the complexity of student life and limits our ability to talk about problems on our campus, and the possible solutions.
Do we have problems with alcohol at Middlebury? Yes, we do—as do many other colleges and universities—and President Liebowitz and I and Dean Jordan have spent much of the last two or three years talking with students about these problems and how we might address them (we’ve also blogged on these issues here and there). One thing is clear from these discussions: policies and rules alone will not solve the problem. Students must step up and take responsibility for looking after one another and governing their own social lives. Which is why the CAMPUS’ latest effort to spin the CORE survey and politicize the alcohol issues is so misguided. To make progress on this important issue, we really do need to be on the same page.
So how do we get there?