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MIT announces penalty system for alcohol violations

The Dean's Office announced Tuesday a system of citations and sanctions for individual violations of MIT's policy on alcohol. The system was accepted by the Academic Council at its meeting that afternoon.

The regulations were designed to provide a more clearly articulated means to respond to violations of MIT's alcohol policy, which is grounded in Massachusetts state law. The intent, according to Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education Rosalind Williams, is "to make clear how individual responsibility for choices made in regard to alcohol are tied to specific consequences when the choices made are unlawful or otherwise violate MIT policy."

Last fall's review of alcohol policy -- involving students, student groups, fraternities, sororities and independent living groups, the dormitory council, house masters, deans and others -- concluded, among other things, that a system should be established of graduated sanctions, appropriate to the frequency and severity of violations. The review was conducted by Associate Provost Phillip L. Clay, Phillip J. Walsh, director of the Campus Activities Complex, and Stephen D. Immerman, director of administration and operations in the office of the senior vice president.

The regulations establish minimum sanctions for violations involving personal alcohol use by underage persons and the more serious violations of providing alcohol to underage persons. The regulations are designed to be "primarily educational in nature" but would have fines and other sanctions where warranted.

Depending on the severity and frequency of the violations and associated behavior, the other sanctions may range from fines (up to $1,500) to a recommendation for expulsion from MIT (see chart below).

Professor Clay, Dean Williams, Dean of Student Life Margaret Bates and others discussed the sanctions system at a briefing for student press on Tuesday afternoon.

Dean Williams noted that "the details of implementation still need to be developed, but we wanted to have a basic framework of sanctions established for the second semester." She said students and other members of the community would be involved in developing the details of implementation as the semester proceeds.


A student who violates the MIT alcohol policy will be issued a citation by Campus Police and receive sanctions geared to the nature and frequency of the offense. The sanctions will be the responsibility of the Dean for Student Life.

For the spring semester, a student's alcohol citation will be purged from the record unless the violation is so severe that it involves the regular disciplinary system. This practice will be reviewed at the end of the term.

The minimum sanction for a first offense (Category I ) of underage possession or consumption of alcohol will involve a face-to-face meeting with an Institute officer where a verbal warning will be given, plus a two-hour educational session on alcohol. A second offense for underage personal possession will involve, minimally, a $50 fine and eight hours of Institute service. A third offense will mean a minimum $150 fine, 16 hours of Institute service and deferred suspension from Institute-approved housing.

For the more serious category of offenses -- providing or procuring alcohol for anyone under 21 years or age, or providing alcohol to an intoxicated person -- a first offense will involve at least a $25 fine, plus the Category I sanctions. The second offense will involve, minimally, a warning of possible suspension, plus the Category I sanctions. A third offense will, at a minimum, mean a warning of possible expulsion in addition to the other sanctions.

This system of sanctions is considered a minimum standard; other student or faculty/administrative organizations may impose additional sanctions, Dean Bates said.

"We must make absolutely clear that we expect students or other community members who observe a medical or other emergency to call for help," she said. "This is an ironclad obligation that we all share. As such, if the 'good Samaritan' who places a call for help is found to be in violation of policy, the fact that he or she placed the call will be considered a mitigating circumstance when sanctions are imposed."

Professor Clay said, "These sanctions apply only to a narrow set of violations about underage possession, procuring and supplying of alcohol, which are specific violations of existing policy and law. The review this past fall uncovered additional questions that need to be addressed, such as whether citations will become a part of the student's permanent file.

"Definitions also need to be articulated for 'providing' and 'intoxicated,' as in the regulation regarding persons providing alcohol to an underage person or an intoxicated person. Another question involves the imposition of collective sanctions for violations in residential settings," Professor Clay said.

MIT policy prohibits use of Institute funds to purchase alcohol for MIT events where anyone under 21 is present. The prohibition may not be waived when the sponsoring organization is student-run. As a result, house taxes may not be used to purchase alcohol. A member of the Academic Council -- the president, provost, vice presidents, dean of students or deans of the schools, or other senior officers responsible for an area -- may waive the request for events sponsored by academic departments, laboratories, centers or administrative units, based on a determination that the requirements will be met.

The sanctions will apply to activities at registered and unregistered MIT events, the residence halls, fraternities, sororities and independent living groups, and any MIT activity on or off campus.

"The system provides MIT with a means of tracking violations and identifying students who may be in need of help; it makes evident the seriousness of the offense; it provides the Campus Police, who are sworn to uphold Massachusetts law, with a course of action short of arrest; and it serves as a reminder that there are many non-drinkers at MIT, and that they too have their individual rights," Dean Williams said.

"It is in everyone's interest if we can regulate our own community behavior. The purpose of the citation system is to demonstrate to local governments, to the nation at large, and to ourselves that we can govern ourselves responsibly," she said.

"I am well aware that dealing with underage drinking is not at all the same as dealing with binge drinking," Dean Williams continued. "While we hope that sanctions will help reduce the incidence of underage drinking, only a long-term effort of education will effectively reduce binge drinking. I look forward to the results of the Working Group on the Prevention of Binge Drinking, chaired by Professor Phillip Sharp and Dr. Mark Goldstein.

"MIT needs a combination of education and sanctions to reduce alcohol abuse on campus, and ultimately the effectiveness of both depends on convincing students that alcohol abuse is a problem and needs to be reduced -- not just because outside authorities are putting pressure on us, but because it is harmful to the overall health, physical and otherwise, of our community.

"The challenge here is to develop an internal system that is tough enough to be credible to ourselves and to the world outside MIT -- but is also reasonable and flexible enough so that students won't spend all their time avoiding it and gaming it," Dean Williams said. "Above all we have to ensure that this credible but reasonable system makes campus life better, healthier, saner and safer."


The definition of violations is as follows:

Category I

1. Possession or consumption of alcohol or alcoholic beverage by a person under 21 years of age. (Possession is defined to include transporting or carrying on the person.)

2. Use of a driver's license or any other form of identification that falsely shows a person under the age of 21 to be 21 or older in order to obtain alcohol or an alcoholic beverage, or to gain admission to an event at which alcohol or alcoholic beverages are provided or available.

3. Any attempt to procure alcohol or alcoholic beverage by a person under 21 years of age.

Category II

1.Providing* alcohol or an alcoholic beverage to anyone under 21 years of age.

2. Providing* alcohol or an alcoholic beverage to an intoxicated person.

3. Procuring alcohol or an alcoholic beverage for a person under 21.

* "Providing" will be defined by the following questions: Who bought the alcohol? Who served the alcohol? In whose room was the alcohol served?

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 4, 1998.

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