By Richard Vedder
A new study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse shows that a very significant minority of college students are drug and/or alcohol dependent. Almost half have a substance abuse problem. The drinking culture has expanded everywhere, but is now increasingly supplemented with other forms of abuse. Harvard now tells its students to obey the laws and drink moderately --but then opens a pub so it can be "with it" and soften its hard core academic image. My university in the past year saw nearly 20 football players arrested on alcohol related charges, not to mention the football coach --who was not punished by the university for his actions. Similar things are happening elsewhere. Yet when Ben Wildavsky appropriately pointed this out in his landmark first draft of the Spellings Commission report, it was met with a firestorm of protest. When a prominent American (former Notre Dame President Rev. Edward Malloy or former Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Joe Califano, depending on which news account you believe) said that college presidents are acting like Pontius Pilate, he was savagely attacked by one of the leaders of the Higher Education Establishment, Peter McPherson. But Father Malloy and Joe Califano are right.
The facts are a lot of our students have a substance abuse problem of varying proportions, that they study typically vastly less than 20 hours a week, and that the academic duties of students therefore rarely take more than 1,000 hours a year or so to perform (compared with close to 2,000 hours for adult workers). With grade inflation, expectations of professors are modest. Kids have tons of time on their hands, and often a lot of money, some of it borrowed from taxpayers at low interest rates.
Residential colleges, despite their high costs, exist in part because there is a legitimate non-academic dimension to higher education -- learning to be mature, to lead, to be disciplined and develop interpersonal communication skills. College is a somewhat protected sanctuary where kids grow to be adults and to learn right from wrong. They go to college to learn the business of life, and a lot of that business cannot be learned inside the classroom or in books. Yet colleges have some obligation --arguably a major one -- to temper the passions of students, to provide them with limits on their behavior, and to encourage good moral and ethical standards. Yet schools seem to want to subsidize hedonism, giving the kids bars, hot tubs, and, proposed for Carnegie Mellon university --co-ed roommates. College is a place to get drunk, to fornicate, to get high --and, occasionally, to study. At most campuses, students have to pay for textbooks, but get "free" condoms. Why should taxpayer dollars be used to buy condoms for affluent oversexed college kids who do little studying? Why should tax exempt dollars and government subsidies be used to promote hedonism? Why don't universities teach students values such as honesty, moderation, and tolerance? And, mostly, why does the public put up with it? Is it because Americans are going the way of 4th and 5th century Romans, wallowing in moral decay and making their civilization vulnerable to conquest by the barbarians at the gates?