The way we were: Warch on “getting stoned or plastered

Rachel Hoerman

“In the Matriculation address I urged that we not permit our communal life to become divorced from the opportunities and responsibilities that education imparts to us.’ I also voiced the expectation that all of us would ‘affirm the harmony of liberal learning with responsible living.’ Such exhortations may trip lightly from the tongue – especially presidential tongues – but embodying them in the daily life of the individual or the institution is a different and difficult matter,” admits Lawrence University President Richard Warch. In a three-page letter sent to every student last week, Warch stated, “Within the past few decades Lawrence – along with most other colleges and universities – made a conscious decision to accord more freedom and flexibility to students and student organizations. By relinquishing a traditional in loco parentis role, the college sought to recognize the independence and self-determination of students. These men and women are, of course, not only students but also adults, legally and physically. To treat them as such was not only to recognize belatedly a long-standing fact but was also to acknowledge a persuasive change in cultural mores. Coeducational residence halls, the opening of the Viking Room, the establishment of LUCC, and a host of other decisions signaled a fairly dramatic shift in the ways in which the University enacted its institutional authority . . .

“One unfortunate consequence of this action was that the University drifted – or at least was perceived to have drifted – into a posture of laissez-faire toward certain behaviors. In the days of single-sex dormitories and of the prohibition of alcohol on campus, the college unabashedly structured student life to enforce certain behavior. . .

The point I want to make is not that students then were somehow better or more restrained (inhibited?) than students today, but merely that the college’s official posture toward such things was patently clear.

“The situation today is otherwise. I say that not as a moral judgment of lament, but as a simple statement of fact. When the college eliminated certain rules and prohibitions, it created a climate of freedom in student life. But it also created, at worst, a situation that suggested that anything goes and nobody cares. . .

“As I stated to head residents and others last fall, my concern is with a form of student schizophrenia that seems to be typified by a syndrome of ‘grind it out and blow it off.’ To separate one’s academic endeavors from one’s social activities in this radical fashion is not what Lawrence should foster among its students. And to appear oblivious or indifferent to instances of excessive or abusive uses of alcohol or drugs by a minority of students hardly befits this institution or any of its members.”

Warch claims that that he is not “advocating a return to a set of institutional restrictions or authoritarian actions.” He writes, “I simply want to state, clearly and candidly , that when the University acknowledges your freedoms it also encourages your responsibilities. That we do not have a set of residential rules and procedures regarding personal behavior is not a consequence of our indifference but of our trust . . . We do care how you define your values, how you evidence your maturity, and how you regulate your behavior.

“The University community values, fosters, and expects the growth and maturing sense of responsibility of each of its members. It, and every person in it, deserves to be accorded respect by each of its members. . .

“To come to Lawrence . . . is to be free from the restraints and rhythms that have shaped and controlled your lives. It is to be free for the arduous and abiding process of defining yourself, establishing your priorities, setting the standards by which you will measure yourself, making choices . . .

“The larger university community does expect that you will – individually and collectively – translate the freedom Lawrence affords to the responsible living and concern for others Lawrence expects. Getting stoned or plastered as a habitual event abuses that freedom and negates that responsibility . . .

“We know from the experience of other colleges (one otherwise prestigious Eastern institution in particular) that when these forms of behavior become endemic, they can damage the very fabric of an institution. My purpose in writing is to ward off that moment for Lawrence and to invite you to assert and assume the same kind of self-restraint and sense of personal worth that will help insure that Lawrence will be a place where we match our devotion to freedom with our allegiance to responsible living.”

Warch became Lawrence’s fourteenth president last fall, succeeding Thomas S. Smith.

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