Volume 11, Number 8 Duke University April 2000
Stuart Rojstaczer on Students & Alcohol
Martin Golding on Free Speech on Campus
Editorial on New Editor
Possum: Culture Studies (Derrida)
Parrot: Recitations (Whitman)
College Campus Drinking:
When Winning Small Battles Is Worthwhile
--by Stuart Rojstaczer
Director of the Center for Hydrologic Science
I am a professor at a university that, like a few others, recently experienced the alcohol-related death of a student. My university's president has publicly stated that we have an alcohol problem on our campus. I agree and so would most faculty members on any campus in the country. We are collectively undergoing a tremendous amount of soul-searching, trying to find solutions. Alcohol abuse on college campuses has become a major issue and has been covered extensively by the national press. Even Harvard University, the standard bearer of higher education, has weighed in with its own report and finds that binge drinking is on the rise. There are calls to return to a former time when students behaved more responsibly.
But I am not awash in nostalgia about the old days when students behaved responsibly in their use of alcohol. I don't think they ever did, and they certainly haven't for the last few decades. I know that I didn't. To be precise, I didn't do alcohol as a student. In my group of friends, alcohol was taboo because it was something your mom and dad did. Instead we did drugs, lots of drugs. We took care of ourselves in a haphazard fashion. We were, in retrospect, dumb and stupid in our behavior. But no parent or university was going to be able to convince us to change our ways.
We could have died. We could have ended up in prison. In fact, someone I knew did die. And in fact, someone I knew ended up in prison for dealing drugs. But we, my friends and I, weren't scared. Sure, we knew these people. We hung out with them. But we thought that these tragedies were isolated incidents. The possibility that we would fall, we thought was negligible. Somehow, by a mixture of luck and the law of averages, we managed to survive virtually unscathed. Of course, I can remember hardly a thing of those years. So I more or less threw away three years of my life.
I'm not an expert on human psychology by a long shot. But I do know that a significant percentage of teenagers feel the need to attack their brains with drugs and alcohol on a regular basis. My friends and I felt that need back then. Kids of today still feel that need. There will always be a core group of substance abusers on any campus whose influence on student culture will wax and wane for reasons that have only little to do with university policies toward alcohol and drugs. Substance abuse is embedded in the fabric of college life. We can win small battles on our campuses in fighting alcohol and drug use. We should fight those battles, but we cannot expect to win the war.
For many, it's a rite of passage. In your teenage years, emotions are at a peak. And maybe because of that alcohol and drugs are so attractive. They dull the emotions to a tolerable level. They smooth frayed edges. Like sex, it's a new and exciting experience that many can't get enough of. Unlike sex, however, getting polluted tends to become less alluring as you get older. I stopped taking drugs by the time I hit twenty-four. I never looked back. Most of my friends from that time, the ones that I know about at any rate, did more or less the same.
Talking to students about alcohol and drug use today, I don't see a whole lot of difference between my experiences as a teenager and theirs. They are getting wasted more on alcohol than on drugs, but that's about it for differences. To my mind they are making a subtle and slightly more legal choice. For whatever reasons, some feel a compelling need to get wasted on a regular basis just like I felt that need. Sure, it's self-destructive behavior. I can tell them that it's self destructive, as can their parents and university officials. I think that we should all do so. But we should realize that only a few will heed this message.
We can and should enact policies that promote responsible drinking. We can and should promote alternative recreational activities. It's true that in enacting changes like these, which are being undertaken on many college campuses, we are probably only nibbling at the edge of the problem. These policies will not impact the core community of alcohol and drug users on campus, but they have the potential, if done in cooperation with students, to have a positive impact on those on the margins of the substance abuse culture. Sometimes nibbling on the edge of a problem is the best that can be done.
It's inevitable that regardless of campus policies on alcohol, kids will still get drunk. Kids will get high. Like our nation's war on drugs, university rules concerning alcohol and drugs, even "zero tolerance" rules, can be expected to have only limited success. Every year in this country, a few students will die directly as a result of binge drinking or drug use. Many more will die from alcohol and drug related driving accidents. Their parents will experience the sadness associated with the loss of a child, a sadness that must be overwhelming in magnitude. We are left with the unsettling feeling that we have no choice but to accept some significant risk associated with substance abuse.
Just how bad is it to accept this risk?
The fact is that we accept many risks for our college-age children. We
know that there is always the possibility, however remote, that they might
die on their next car ride, plane ride, or thrill-filled adventure somewhere
in a distant land. We just hope that, by luck and the law of averages,
our students survive their youth and thrive in their adulthood. And almost
every one of them does survive and thrive. Thankfully, they manage to successfully
pass through what are, for many people, difficult, risk-filled years. It
has been going on like this for generations.
Stuart Rojstaczer is the author of Gone for Good:
Tales of University Life after the Golden Age (Oxford Press, 1999).
He may be reached by email at www.duke.edu/~stuart.
EdNote: The following essay is the Preface to a
book by Martin P. Golding, of the Duke Philosophy department and Law School,
entitled Free Speech on Campus (Rowman and Littlefield, 2000).
FREE SPEECH ON CAMPUS
--by Martin P. Golding
I was a student at the University of California at Los Angeles during the heyday of the "loyalty oath" controversy. The Cold War was at its beginnings, and the fidelity of some academics to the United States was questioned. Employees of the university, including faculty, were required to take an oath that they were not members of so-called subversive organizations. As far as I could tell, none of my teachers was a supporter of the Soviet Union or communism (well, maybe a few), but I knew some students who were. My own attitude toward communism, however, had been negative since my high school days. I had had a teacher who was a fellow traveler, if not a member of the Communist Party, and he often lectured us callow youth on the virtues of that system. He never converted anyone, and I developed an antipathy toward the Soviet system. (In other respects he was the best high school teacher I had.) So I might have been expected to be a supporter of the loyalty oath. But I was not.
It seemed to me then, as it seems to me now, that universities are hallowed ground, as it were: the free expression of ideas and opinions, and their critical examination, are central to the work of the university. This faith, I admit, was put into question during the student disruptions in 1968 at Columbia University, where I was then teaching. I was shocked by students who wanted to "bring the university to its knees" and who thought they could thereby force a radical transformation of society. I was even more shocked by their faculty supporters who were willing to foul their own nests and risk destroying the institution. Yet, though we now live in the wake of these events, I still retain a belief in campus free speech.
However, I am not a free speech "absolutist." Free speech is a value that must be weighed against other values and which could be overridden by them. There are circumstances in which the freedom of speech may be curtailed, but these circumstances are always special. Thus, to take an extreme case, an argument can be made that it is legitimate in today's Germany to curb the verbal activities of neo-Nazi organizations, given the special history of the country. (Currently, Hitler's Mein Kampf cannot be published there, though the Internet makes it fully available.) It may, however, be unwise to do so. Much depends on context.
On the other hand, though free speech is not an absolute value, it may have a special weight in certain circumstances. Any move to curtail it would then have a hard burden to overcome. This, I believe, is the case in universities.
This book is concerned with free speech on campus, but it is not about the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It is, rather, a study in "institutional ethics." To be sure, public universities and colleges are bound by the First Amendment's guarantees of the freedom of speech, and perhaps private institutions are too, to some extent. There are, however, many excellent studies on the constitutional right of free speech. Instead, this book examines arguments, pro and con, concerning standards of discourse and expression that are particularly germane to the campus context, public or private, whether or not they are constitutionally enforceable. It will, nevertheless, be impossible to avoid some discussion of the First Amendment guarantees. Many of the arguments regarding campus discourse and expression turn on the question of how these guarantees are to be understood.
This book is also not a survey of the speech code literature. I take up what seem to me to be the best arguments for speech codes, try to present them sympathetically, and evaluate them. I come out, in the end, against speech codes. But this conclusion doesn't make me happy, for I think that it is not necessarily right to do something simply because it is legally or institutionally unpunishable: civility and concern for the feelings of others do not lose their importance whether or not there are speech codes. It also doesn't make me happy to support, as I do, the freedom of expression for the many silly and repellent theoretical ideas and opinions that the American campus is so full of today, though some might be excludable on academic grounds. As is emphasized throughout, the issue is not just the unitary one of whether there should be speech codes. There in fact is a complex of campus speech issues, connected with each other in greater or lesser degree.
We should not leave this preface without taking notice of what has been happening on campuses in recent years: an increase in the number of reported incidents of racial conflict; pressure for a more "multicultural" curriculum and revision of the "canon" (the fields, subjects, and books that hitherto have been standardly taught); affirmative action programs in admissions and faculty recruitment; regulations dealing with sexual harassment; regulations governing dating between students and between students and faculty (the Duke University law school has adopted regulations against dating between law students and faculty); "consciousness raising" sessions and sensitivity training, and so on. Around these various incidents, pressures, programs, regulations, and activities, there has grown up a veritable industry of administrators and "facilitators."
How are these phenomena connected to the campus speech issue? Does a stand on the speech question commit one to a particular stand vis-à-vis any one or other of these matters? For instance, does a pro-regulation stand commit one to a program of affirmative action or multicultural education? The rhetoric surrounding the free speech issue, from parties on both sides of the debate, the pro-regulators and the anti-regulators, often suggests that there may be a connection. But a connection of what sort? Is there some conceptual link that ties them together? Do they flow together from some social ideology or agenda? Or is it merely accidental that proponents and opponents of speech regulation also tend to take contrary stances on these other phenomena?
These are difficult questions, and we cannot pretend to answer them in this book. Each side to the debate tends to see the other in stark terms: one side is right-wing, conservative, homophobic, sexist; the other side is leftist, "progressive activist," nihilistic, anarchical, totalitarian. Issues of freedom of expression, faculty hiring, tenure standards, admissions, course content, and so on, are indicative of rifts in the culture of the university.
Because this little book has been written at Duke University, I think it appropriate to mention that one of the country's first academic freedom cases arose in 1903 at Trinity College, Duke's predecessor. History professor John Spencer Bassett called Booker T. Washington the greatest man in recent Southern history next to Robert E. Lee. Demands were made that Bassett be dismissed. The trustees of the college, however, voted 18-7 in Bassett's favor. Speaking to a large crowd near the campus, President Theodore Roosevelt said: "You stand for Academic Freedom, for the right of [a scholar] ... to tell the truth as he sees it, ... and to give others the largest liberty in seeking after the truth." The future of academic freedom depends on how the rifts in the culture of the university are resolved.
AT LAST, A NEW EDITOR
Thank goodness, a successor at last. A year after the call went out and nobody answered, Lawrence Evans has consented to take the job for a year, with (I hope) more years of service to transpire after that. Now, after three years of serious effort plus this last year of caretaker responsibility, I can read someone else's edition with both a spirit of relaxation and keen interest. During my term, Evans' contributions to the FF have been substantial and provocative. His lead essay, "Should We Care About Science 'Studies?'" in my first issue (October 1996) anticipated by a month the revelation of Sokal's Hoax, a world-famed instance of Science 'Studies' stretched to lunatic proportions. And his lead essay the following September (1997), "Academic Entropy: The Second Law of Acadynamics," presented such scathing evidence of decay in our undergraduate curriculum as to have probably affected the toughening of standards in our current Curriculum 2000 reforms.
Larry and I know each other well after spending a third of a century together on this campus, and we both have an excellent institutional memory, but he is by far the greater master of the university's inner sancta. In addition to being a long-term chairman of the physics department, he has also spent decades carrying an elephant-size load of service responsibilities, including terms as chair of both the Academic Council and the Arts and Sciences Council (or more exactly, its predecessor, UFCAS) along with a yard-long list of university committee assignments. So FF readers can expect a highly sophisticated grasp of campus affairs in future editions, as well as an attentive eye toward the national scene of academic business.
As everyone who knows Larry Evans can predict, so far as the editing function is concerned, these pages will unfailingly be marked by a keen no-nonsense intelligence that is tempered by mature judgment and a sense of humor. The shift from English to Physics as the editor's professional bailiwick might enhance the role of the sciences in the FF, but Evans--an accomplished violinist and all-around connoisseur--will not slight the humanities and social sciences for all that. On behalf of my three predecessors--Bruce Lawrence, John Staddon, and Roger Corless--I wish him good luck and a steady stream of good contributions from his Duke colleagues as he assumes this position.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Contributions to the Faculty Forum should be sent hereafter to the new FF editor, Lawrence Evans. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Adventures in Clear Speaking
"I am not a racist."
--Jacques Derrida, world-class master of obfuscation, replying to a broadside by two graduate students from South Africa, a society Derrida had pronounced to be racist during pre-Mandela times.
Adventures in Noble Thinking
O Thou transcendent,
Nameless, the fibre and the breath,
Light of the light, shedding forth universes.
--Walt Whitman, "Passage to India"