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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"Alcohol culture on campus in unchangeable" and "Alcohol is a permanent feature of college life and is a rite of passage"

      These are two assumptions that courts made in the 1970's in regard to Higher education Law, according to Peter Lake, "Law and Prevention" Prevention File (spring 2003).  Many people may still believe these assumptions.  However Lake explains that "By the 1990s courts had begun to fully main-stream colleges into a tort system that viewed the solution to complex risk phenomena as one of "shared responsibility." Further Lake states "Courts have sent the following messages in key cases around the country.
  • First, the fortunes of the Greek community in litigation are tied to colleges: A fraternity injury is a college student injury.
  • Second, the duty of college is not to observe student life from a distance, but to use reasonable care to prevent foreseeable danger in the college community.
  • Third, responsibility of colleges is not limited to the campus landscape, but extends into student life and academics (what I cal a riskscape).
  • Fourth, scientific evaluation is what reasonable business do. Evaluation shows reasonable care.For example using the new NIAAA report's recommendations is a good way to defend a university's approach to high-risk alcohol culture.
  • Fifth, colleges share responsibility with students, and other entities on and off campus, and should actively work with all individuals and groups who can facilitate campus safety.
  • Sixth, high-risk alcohol culture must be approached proactively to prevent injury, instead of reactively to win legal cases at the cost of student safety.  The casebooks are filled with instances where actors acted simply to avoid legal liability, but not reasonably in the face of danger."
  I look at Lake's message as one that would apply to the JMU situation.  JMU shares the responsibility with students to reduce risk and provide a safe environment.  Given the data that JMU has collected, there are foreseeable risk to student safety caused by the negative alcohol culture. JMU's comprehensive plan is heavily focused on educational efforts.  The accountability side of the equation is not being met.  There needs to be a balancing of education and accountability for behavior change.  Again I wonder, will it take a lawsuit (an external influence) to help JMU to hold students accountable for their negative alcohol behavior?

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