Couch fire

Oops, they did it again. The UCSB Rules and Regulations Committee spent much of last week meeting, debating, discussing – and ultimately voting on – a proposed set of regulations designed to extend the university’s jurisdiction to cover the way students behave when they’re off-campus. After a very close vote, committee did endorse a proposal that gives UCSB administrators the power to punish students that get busted for theft and arson – including those involved in couch-burning incidents. However, amendments to the proposal that would have allowed administrators to take punitive action against students found guilty of distributing alcohol to minors – as well as manufacturing and/or selling drugs – was shot down faster than Britney Spears’ first marriage.

All of this brings to mind a line from another Brit hit – well, a Britney cover of a Bobby Brown hit to be exact – “My Prerogative.” In this stellar example of musical ingenuity, Britney rails on the paparazzi, the pundits, and the people who were (at that point in her career’s rapid downward spiral) trying to tell her to calm down in her hard partying ways. Britney’s response?

“Everybody’s talkin’ all this stuff about me / Why don’t they just let me live? / I don’t need permission / Make my own decisions / That’s my prerogative / That’s my prerogative.”

It’s not exactly poetry – and it does smack somewhat of angsty adolescent whining about curfew time – but I find it especially appropriate for the current debate over the university’s proposed jurisdiction extension.

Last time I checked, the vast majority of us college students are legally considered adults. Sure, there’s that rare, pint-sized, Doogie Howser-aged genius, or the kid whose parents put them in school just in time for them to be perennially behind everyone else until their birthday rolls around in December. But, for the most part, we’re all old enough to vote, old enough to drive, and old enough to legally drink – or close to it. We live on our own, we manage to feed ourselves, and most of us manage to make it to class without (too much) parental prompting. A lot of us work, a lot of us pay taxes, and a lot of us are fully responsible for making sure that new Razr doesn’t get shut off at the end of the month. My point is that, with the aforementioned exceptions, most college students are adults – legally and practically speaking – and whether or not we choose to break the law is, so to speak, our prerogative.

So why does the university insist on continually treating us like children? In 2001, UCSB extended its jurisdiction into Isla Vista so that students convicted of physical abuse, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and hazing would have to go before a committee of students and faculty members known as the Student-Faculty Committee on Student Conduct. As the ridiculously obvious name implies, the committee has quite a bit of power, and can decide to suspend or expel students. Feel free to use the comment section right below this column to disagree with me, but in my opinion, this extension of jurisdiction makes sense. Students convicted of abuse or assault against their fellow students present a danger to the student population as a whole.

Backyard keg

In contrast, most students ticketed for “distributing alcohol to minors” just happen to have the bad luck of being caught engaging in that most venerated of collegiate traditions – throwing a party. I find it hard to accept the equation of party-throwing, or even selling drugs to people who complicity purchase them out of their own free will, with violent assault and abuse cases. Sure, one could argue that couch burning is a public safety hazard – not to mention incredibly bad for the environment and kind of silly when you think about it – but again, it’s not nearly as egregious of an offense as sexual assault.

Besides, all of the aforementioned crimes are committed out in the real, off-campus world, and institutions do exist within that world to deal with them in a way that seems to work just fine for everybody else who is old enough to drive, vote, fight on the front-lines in Iraq, pay their own bills, be held responsible for taxes, and the like. Just because we happen to be students at UCSB – an institution whose administrators are, coincidentally or not, currently trying to work past the only-slightly-deserved reputation for being a “party school” – does not mean that we need extra sanctions held over our heads for committing crimes that are already punishable in the non-university-affiliated justice system.

If the Isla Vista Foot Patrol has nothing better to do than bust your party, start checking ID’s, and eventually issue you a ticket for allowing someone who is old enough to fight in the army, but still a few months away from being legally allowed to drink, then that is between you and the system in which those laws are created and enforced. Providing alcohol to minors in Isla Vista does not directly affect the health and safety of other people on the university campus – regardless of whether or not you think it affects the health and safety of people off-campus, you have to agree that what goes on at a party on Sueno has little to nothing to do with what goes on in a lecture hall on university property.

Why the university even thinks it has the right to govern off-campus behavior – unless such behavior establishes proof of the fact that someone is a dangerous predator that should not be allowed on the university campus at all – is beyond me. If the university’s administrators want to help UCSB transcend its reputation for revelry, they need to start focusing on the good things students do when they’re not downing cheap beer at a party on Del Playa. The reality is that drinking occurs at every college campus around the world. Even my friends at the relatively conservative Brandeis University know how to take shots with the best of them. The difference is that most other campuses do not assume or attempt to create such a direct link between the off-campus behavior of their students and the on-campus achievements of the same student population.

Whether or not someone drinks, distributes alcohol, or even sells drugs, is ultimately a personal choice that they make independent of whether or not their professor discussed chapter ten or article seven in class that day. Whether or not someone writes an award-winning paper has a whole lot more to do with the university’s input and influence. It’s time for UCSB to start treating students like the adults that they are – legally and practically – and letting us live our off-campus lives in the off-campus world. If the administration really wants UCSB to lose its party-school reputation, it needs to work on improving what goes on at the actual school, not worrying about what happens when students go home at the end of the day. That’s the job of the justice system, not some committee of students and faculty members. If a student wants to take the risk of throwing a party, it’s their prerogative, not their school’s. Once the university administration starts overstepping its bounds, things are bound to tumble downhill faster than a razor wielding, pre-rehab Britney. And nobody wants that.


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