Column by Roberto Lobianco


The Student Association (SA) recently released a drug policy survey to students and has been discussing SUNY New Paltz’s two-strike marijuana policy with the campus community. A similar survey was released last year.

In the past the Student Senate has passed resolutions calling for changes to the college’s marijuana policy. At New Paltz a “second strike” results in mandatory expulsion – the strictest policy in the SUNY system

“The current policies reflect the college’s values that we have as a community right now,”  New Paltz President Steven Poskanzer said in May 2005.

That month 250 students gathered in front of the Haggerty Administration Building calling for an end to expulsions as a sanction for drug possession, according to The New Paltz Oracle. Recently, President Donald Christian reiterated this sentiment when he said that he and other administrators have no intention of changing the policy.

The conversations between students and administrators often lack context. Some of that context can be found in data looking at the costs of policing, the effects of UPD’s current policies and the demographics of students affected by those policies.

Resource Redux

The costs and scope of police services on campus should be part of any discussion involving the campus drug policy. The Town of New Paltz, with 14,000 residents, has only 12 full-time police officers compared to SUNY New Paltz’s 24 full time officers.

According to police logs posted online nearly 25 percent of UPD calls are marijuana-related.

This represents a large burden of financial and human resources spent on policing minor drug offenses. A resource-drain replicated by law enforcement agencies at both the national and state level.

On our campus, the third highest paid individual is not a professor, staff member or administrator – but a UPD officer: Lt. Michael Doyle. Between 2011 and 2012, the total salaries paid to UPD officers increased by $1 million, according to data from SeeThroughNY.

The number of UPD officers went from 24 in 2011 to 29 in 2012, yet average salaries increased by $24,000 – from $60,000 in 2011 to $84,000 in 2012. Much of that increased pay is going towards overtime. Doyle’s base salary is $82,000, – but that figure burgeons to $156,000 after over time and other supplementary compensation is factored in.

The next highest paid UPD officer, Lt. Timothy Wurtz made $141,000 in 2012 – $58,000 more than his base salary. While both officers have been on the force for nearly 30 years, even newer officers are raking in tens of thousands of dollars over their base salaries.

The overall average salary for all 29 UPD officers in 2012 was $90,447.

The growing costs of policing the campus should play a more central role in discussions about the drug policy.

Policies Shifting

The college can’t choose whether or not to enforce the federal and state laws on the books when it comes to marijuana cases. However, it can choose how it handle cases that are brought through the campus’ judicial process.

It’s important to acknowledge UPD’s shifting policies and policing strategies and discuss how those changes are affecting students.At New Paltz, students face mandatory expulsion on their “second strike” – the strictest marijuana policy in the SUNY system.

There was a marked shift in UPD’s handling of drug-related offenses between 2011 and 2012. Data from UPD’s Annual Security Report show that more cases are being handled through the campus judicial process while fewer students are being arrested.

In 2011, 74 students were arrested on drug charges. That declined to 47 in 2012, with 10 arrested in residence halls.

The number of students who were referred for disciplinary action on drug related charges went from 43 in 2011 to 79 in 2012.When David Dugatkin began his stint as UPD chief in September 2011, he said he’d be implementing a policy of increased UPD patrols in and around residence halls in an attempt to improve police-student relations.

While it’s unclear whether or not that relationship has improved, what is clear is that the number of students in residence halls being remanded for disciplinary action on drug related offenses has more than doubled – 22 in 2011, 50 in 2012.

The total number of drug-related arrests decreased by 36 percent, but the total number of students referred for disciplinary action increased by 83 percent.

A Process Apart 

The campus judicial process isn’t like a court of law. The evidentiary standards are lower and students aren’t afforded the same rights as defendants in a court of law, like questioning witnesses or having a lawyer present at the hearing.In a May 9, 2013 article in the Oracle Christian said that over the last three years, 277 students have received a first use judicial violation while eight students have been expelled for a second violation.

However, this number doesn’t include students who – faced with the option of going before a judicial panel stacked against them  – choose to leave without contesting the charges. A second-strike expulsion means a permanently marred transcript and little chance of transferring to another institution.A fuller analysis of who the students being arrested or remanded for disciplinary action are is necessary. A full accounting of this cohorts’ demographics is in order.

According to Christian, most students who have been expelled after a second-strike offense have an average GPA of 2.5 while the college’s overall average GPA is 3.1 – an indication, Christian said, that loosening the marijuana policy might decrease the college’s academic quality.

Conversely, this may indicate that students who are struggling academically need more support services   and less policing in order to succeed at New Paltz.

Rather than a survey that asks students their thoughts about policy – the results of which are easily predictable – Student Association and college administrators should partner to look at the data behind the policy in a comprehensive and thoughtful way.