When Colleges Play Parent
Published: Thursday, November 15, 2012
Updated: Friday, November 16, 2012 15:11
Independence is a critical aspect of college education, and universities should be cautioned against stunting that development by playing the role of parents. A frequent if unintended consequence for students resisting this type of paternalism, however, is that they can find themselves defending the right to activities that may be ill advised.
An example of this dilemma is the issue of smoking on college campuses, which has recently made local headlines. Both The George Washington University and American University plan to become smoke free by next fall, as do the University of Maryland campuses. About 600 colleges across the country have similar policies already in place.
The reasoning behind this decision is understandable. Students risk developing addictions — if they haven’t already — and secondhand smoke can be a health risk to passersby, not to mention something many find unpleasant and unattractive. Despite these concerns, on-campus smoking doesn’t meet the criteria that would warrant a ban. Georgetown should not follow the lead of neighbor universities by overreaching on its authority to control student behavior.
D.C. law prohibits smoking within 25 feet of building doors, windows and air vents. Although that rule is seldom, if ever, enforced on Georgetown’s campus, it’s a sufficient standard for protecting non-smokers from secondhand smoke, and more severe restrictions would be an illegitimate regulation of student behavior. Students are free, although not advised, to gorge themselves on chicken fingers in Leo’s, binge drink at The Tombs and go days without sleep during final exams. When a student’s unhealthy conduct doesn’t put others in danger, it is not the university’s place to intervene.
Universities should work within their core purpose of education to inform students about the dangers of unhealthy habits like cigarette smoking. What they can’t be allowed to do, however, is attempt to act like parents and manage students’ life choices, however poor they may be.