Young Voices

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Pot and profs: what's a university to do?

In light of recent happenings in the Buena Vista University community, The Tack Editorial Board discussed what we believe should happen if a BVU professor is convicted of the manufacture of illegal drugs. Although it is yet to be seen if a conviction will occur in the current case, the incident has lead us to ponder the overall idea - the hypothetical question of what action the BVU administration should take if a professor is convicted of manufacturing illegal drugs.

In thinking about this question, I realized there were two ways to look at this issue. I could either decide it based on principle or upon degree.

Basing the argument on degree would generally lead to two answers, mainly because there are two reasons people grow pot: they're either smoking it or selling it.

Clearly, if a professor is selling pot, he or she should be terminated. It shouldn't matter if he or she is selling it to students, to adults in the community or to their hick cousins in Alabama. The facts become that the professor's top priorities are no longer the needs of the students and the university, but, instead, the needs of oneself. Additionally, the professor becomes a liability to the university, increasing the likelihood of it being sued if a student is introduced to - and becomes addicted because of - the professor's influence.

The trickier question is what should happen if a professor is simply smoking pot in the privacy of his or her own home. Most would say that as long as the professor's teaching abilities weren't impaired and the professor wasn't encouraging student use, the teacher could stay.

However, I would advocate for the person's termination because of his or her career. Certainly, it is questionable whether mail sorters who smoke pot in the privacy of their home and who don't let it affect their work performance should be fired.

But it seems to me that the teaching profession should represent another situation entirely. While most people here are adults and not nearly as impressionable as young children, college students are still growing and exploring and often look to their professors as examples for how to handle their professional and personal lives. It should concern BVU if one of its students' role models turned to drugs to find satisfaction or handle life's problems.

Secondly, BVU has a strong stance against student drug use. The drug policy states, "The University considers the use, possession, distribution, sale or manufacture of illicit drugs or drug-related paraphernalia as contrary to the welfare of the University community and strictly prohibits such activities." In most, perhaps all, cases wherein students have been found to use, possess and do otherwise with illegal drugs, the administration has banned the student from living on campus. How can the BVU administration legitimately punish students who use or are found with illegal drugs if it turns its face from possession or use by its own professors?

A fellow student journalist argues in The Tack that we can't terminate every professor who engages in some sort of illegal activity. I completely agree. Speeding, filing illegal tax returns and missing a court date shouldn't get a professor fired. That argument doesn't work because it'd be arguing on principle.

But I would argue that we could and should punish or terminate professors who engage in illegal activity based on the degree of their violation and its relative impact on our campus's image, professionalism and policies. Our university can't afford to sit back and let bad behavior on the part of our professors pass. It can afford to, however, sit up, pass judgment and determine punishment based on degrees.

* Jennifer Schon is an editorial board member for the Buena Vista University newspaper, "The Tack."