Patrick Slutter, Contributing Writer
Mark Twain is credited with saying, “There are three types of lies: Lies, damn lies and statistics.” Last week SUNY Oneonta fell victim to the third type of lie when “Business Insider” published an article based on a sensationalist report by Rehabs.com, which dubbed SUNY Oneonta the “Druggiest College in America.”
This unbecoming accolade has been given to Oneonta on the grounds that in 2011 we had more on campus drug arrests per one thousand students than any other college with over five thousand students (SUNY Oneonta has approximately 5,800). That logic would lead to saying that the city with the most traffic violations per capita is the “Car-iest” city in America. It is important to not only look at how we are compared, but also to whom we are being compared to. The Rehabs article confesses to having taken the initial seven thousand colleges in the Office of Postsecondary Education database and then eliminating six thousand of them. Furthermore the report fails to mention whether single individuals were arrested multiple times, if the arrests yielded convictions or even if the arrests were of current students.
Nevertheless, after excluding six thousand schools, no other college has as many on campus drug arrests per capita as we do. Is it acceptable for us to view these comparisons to other colleges’ arrests as being on the same field of play as SUNY Oneonta’s? For instance the University of Pennsylvania did not report a single drug or alcohol arrest in 2011, despite the death of Matt Crozier while he was intoxicated at a Penn fraternity house that same year. It is as likely that UPenn doesn’t have substance abuse issues as it is that Iran doesn’t “have any gays.” Naturally SUNY Oneonta and UPenn have different “on campus cultures”, a factor that both “Business Insider” and Rehabs call attention to. It is the disparity between schools such as UPenn and SUNY Oneonta which undermines the study; it is unfair to compare school arrests when particular schools do not arrest their students for breaking the law.
Moreover, forty-nine of the top fifty drug arresting campuses are bound by a common denominator, that they are all public institutions. Private institutions have a benefit of resolving disciplinary issues in-house. This week a current Hartwick College student told me about an incident where he was caught by the campus security force, which is not a police agency, with half an ounce of marijuana, baggies, a scale and a bubbler. The entire matter was taken care of by an internal judicial committee and no arrests were made. At the end of the day nobody wants to pay forty-five thousand dollars a year only to be arrested at their school, and private colleges understand that by arresting students they’re not only discipling a student, they’re also upsetting a customer. SUNY Oneonta, like many other schools public and private alike, can and does handle a variety of substance related issues in-house, but every infraction is first addressed by the very well equipped University Police Department. In 2011, the year that Rehabs used for its article, SUNY Oneonta made eighty-two arrests as opposed to only 63 in-house referrals.
It is not an irrelevant coincidence that schools with police departments make many more arrests and issue many more drug and alcohol infraction tickets than schools without mandatory policing policies. Of the fifty schools listed, forty-seven have their own on campus police department. Particular university programs such as the SUNY and the University of Wisconsin systems have proven that they are more willing than other university programs to use their police forces, which is why SUNY and UW make up twelve of the top fifty schools. The rankings do not, however, equal “drug-cultures,” rather, the ranking lists enforcement-culture. The correlation—number of drug arrests officially reported equals heavy drug use—does not hold.
The president’s office will gladly tell you that on campus drug related arrests have substantially dropped in the past two years. UPD will tell you that they do not write the laws, but merely show up to calls they receive from residence halls. Arrested students will tell you how god-awful these arrests are.
When it is all said and done the students, faculty and staff should neither accept the school’s title of “Druggiest in the Nation” nor be content with the methodology of Rehabs’ report. The melodrama found in online reports such as this does not foster meaningful and sophisticated discourse on the state of drug use on college campuses, a discourse which deserves the utmost sobriety and logic. Like many Americans I wish that the drug enforcement philosophy was different in this country and I am aware that there is a shift in political and social ideals regarding enforcement and use underway. For the time being, students at SUNY Oneonta and colleges must either find a way to coexist with the current drug laws or find a productive way to bring about change.