To: President Donald Christian
The State of Our Campus: Drug Policy and the UPD
We write to you as students concerned for the well-being of New Paltz students. New Paltz is a beautiful town with a unique culture and a breathtaking landscape. It is our hope that as many students as possible are able to enjoy this place. We fear that the current drug policy stands as a barrier to maintaining SUNY New Paltz’s reputation as an up-and-coming modern environment. We write to you to express our deep concern surrounding the current drug policy at SUNY New Paltz. Although we respect the UPD for all they do for this campus, we must point out their behavior in regards to marijuana calls and how it is unacceptable and harmful to students.
SUNY New Paltz’s No Second Chance Policy (1) is extremely archaic. SUNY New Paltz is the only SUNY with a drug policy so harsh. Not only do we lag behind every other SUNY, we lag behind the nation as many states are in the process of legalizing medical marijuana, and even marijuana for recreational use (2). Young adults should be able to decide for themselves what they put into their bodies, and their education should not be taken away because of these choices. The most harmful thing that could be done to a student who smokes marijuana would be to take their education away. You have mentioned in past statements that students who smoke marijuana are usually below average students. For example, in the November 14 and May 9 issues of The Oracle, you expressed the belief that changing the drug policy would “hurt the academic integrity of the campus community (3). You then went on to name grade-point averages of students affected by the policy, even though no such data actually exists. Students across the board use marijuana, which is apparent from the Student Association survey completed last semester which resulted in 72.86 percent of 921 students who responded saying they have consumed both marijuana and alcohol (4). The drug policy should not be used as a tool to weed out less successful students. This administration has been dishonest with the student body, giving students with two strikes an ultimatum to either drop out of New Paltz, or to risk being expelled and having it on their permanent record. This damages their chances to transfer into other universities, and further decreases their ability to receive a quality education. Because students are pressured to leave the University rather than maintain an expulsion on their record, there is little data on who the “No Second Chance” Drug Policy effects.
This lack of information makes it unclear if certain groups of students are being disproportionately affected by the policy and gives a false impression of the number of students who have been expelled or pressured to leave. Not only is the current drug policy problematic, but the University Police Department’s handling of marijuana calls is extremely unfair. There have been multiple cases where the UPD officers physically force themselves into a student’s room by shoving their foot in the door so the student cannot close it. Students do not have to open the door for the police, nor are they required to allow UPD officers into their rooms to be searched. When a student tells an officer that they cannot enter without a warrant, or that they do not consent to searches, the UPD should respect this instead of abusing their power to search a room. This is not a police state, and we as students do not sign our rights away when we step onto this campus. Our rooms cannot just be searched at the whim of a UPD officer, and the fact that they do this shows how our campus is crawling towards a totalitarian police state. Although we respect the UPD for all they do at this campus, we must point out their behavior in regards to marijuana calls and how it is unacceptable and harmful to students.
1.) Change the drug policy to a range of sanctions. Instead of the “No Second Chance” Policy, there should be a range of sanctions similar to the ones suggested in the SA survey. Instead of the first strike, a verbal warning should be given. The second time, disciplinary probation. The third time, a meeting with the dean and possible suspension, etc.
2.) At least 10 days should be allowed for students to appeal judicial decisions, so that the student can be guaranteed the chance to meet with the school’s lawyer who comes in only once a week.
3.) A solid definition of reasonable doubt should be established to prevent lying or hearsay.
4.) The burden of evidence must be raised. Our judicial process is inconsistent with actual law.
Normally, one must be found guilty without reasonable doubt. At SUNY New Paltz, students are found guilty with only preponderance of evidence. This basically means that it is the officer’s word versus the student’s. No actual evidence must be produced. Even something as minimal as an officer saying “their eyes were red” is enough to find a student guilty. This is unacceptable.
5.) If a student tells a UPD officer that they cannot search their room without a warrant, or that they do not consent to searches, this should be respected with no further discussion.
6.) The University Police Department should issue a public statement and apology in regards to their behavior with the marijuana call mentioned herein. The behavior exhibited by the UPD during a marijuana call last semester was atrocious and abusive. A female student was ripped from her bed in the middle of the night, and later pushed to the ground and handcuffed. She suffered bruises from the interaction. Unnecessary force was used for this non-violent marijuana call, and the UPD must take responsibility for their actions. Students’ personal space and bodies should be respected by UPD officers, especially during non-violent marijuana calls.
7.) Chief Dugatkin must have a session with all UPD officers, reminding them of their boundaries and reminding them of the rights that students have.
Respectfully awaiting your public response,
New York Students Rising, Students for Sensible Drug Policy
1.www.newpaltz.edu/studentaffairs/studenthandbook13.pdf pg. 43
4. Student Association Drug Policy Survey, 2013