Alcohol law blurs duties of college heads

Drunkenness is not the only thing leaving students confused about the impact of Connecticut’s year-old alcohol laws on campus.

The Connecticut liquor law has led to confusion about how rules concerning drinking are enforced on campus and has called the traditional role of residential college administrators as guardians into question, students said. Administrators — from the residential-college level to the Executive Committee — said their policies remain largely unchanged in spite of the law, although they said they are more conscious of their roles as enforcers under the new regulations.

Yale’s official “Undergraduate Regulations” have not been amended since the law took effect.

But with an increase in police citations for alcohol violations since last year, most students interviewed said they see friction between the restrictions that took effect on Oct. 1, 2006 and Yale’s “lenient” and “understanding” policies on student drinking.

“[College masters and deans] have become a lot more strict, and there’s definitely more of an emphasis on freshmen and sophomores not drinking at college events and parties,” Olga Berlinsky ’08 said. “Compared to other colleges and universities in the country, Yale is still incredibly lenient. The whole idea that drinking is a health issue and not a disciplinary issue — that attitude still pervades at Yale.”

Under the new statute, it is illegal for a minor to be in possession of alcohol, even if it is in a closed container on private property. It is also illegal for a person of legal drinking age to fail to halt possession of alcohol by a minor.

Both infractions carry $136 fines. Repeat citations of either of these violations result in a misdemeanor charge.

College masters and deans, who have traditionally acted as mentors and guides for students through their years at Yale, said they have been forced to consider the consequences of the stricter law for both students and themselves. Administrators interviewed said they are concerned that they may be legally liable for alcohol violations by students in their colleges.

According to Section 1 of the Public Act No. 06-112, “No person having possession of, or exercising dominion and control over, any dwelling unit or private property shall … knowingly permit any minor to possess alcoholic liquor.”

At the beginning of the fall semester, administrators in many residential colleges warned their students that excessive noise and overflow into college courtyards or common spaces were both reasonable causes for intervention at a party.

“If someone is behaving in a way that is not respectful of the community, inconsistent with the law, or inconsistent with Yale College Undergraduate Regulations, then community good trumps privacy and I (or the Associate Master or Dean) would be obligated to intervene,” Jonathan Edwards Master Gary Haller said in an e-mail to his students in September.

In an interview with the News on Monday, Haller said the new law will force him to act “more swiftly” than in previous years. Official University regulations have not been amended, but the law still has to be obeyed, Haller said.

Ezra Stiles College Master Stuart Schwartz said masters are unsure of how the new law will apply to cases at the University. If, for example, an intoxicated underage student were seriously injured on a residential college’s grounds, Schwartz said, it is unclear who would be responsible.

“None of the masters, I would say, are pleased by the law because it converts us into watchdogs,” Schwartz said. “That’s not why any of the masters took their positions. That’s not what we want to do.”

But Schwartz said his college’s policy of requiring students to register parties remains unchanged. If he discovers a problem with a registered party, rather than with an unregistered one, Schwartz said, the advantage is that he can give the student who registered the party an opportunity to sort out the issue before a college administrator calls the police. If a party is unregistered, the police are called immediately, Schwartz said.

When hundreds of students packed into Pierson College’s lower and main courtyards on Oct. 27 for the college’s Halloween “Inferno” party, Dean Amerigo Fabbri called the Yale Police Department to break up the party.

Yale Police Department officers cleared the college’s courtyards, but they also handed out “several” citations to minors in possession of alcohol and one citation to a student for failing to halt the possession of alcohol by a minor, YPD Sgt. Steven Woznyk said.

Fabbri declined to comment for this article.

Students said they were surprised that the party was broken up by police, but some administrators interviewed said actions like Fabbri’s are in line with what deans and masters have normally done in the past. The new law has had little impact on their behavior, administrators said.

“I think the role of master and the dean is to set a role and culture in the college that contributes to balanced and civilized life,” Silliman College Master and Council of Masters Chair Judith Krauss said. “Alcohol is just one of many issues we deal with.”

Jill Cutler, assistant dean of Yale College and secretary of the Executive Committee, said the committee’s policies towards drinking violations has not changed, despite the new Connecticut liquor law. The Executive Committee still receives all reports of student infractions from the YPD and reviews them on a case-by-case basis, Cutler said.

As before, first-time offenders of state alcohol laws are usually referred to their residential college dean or master, Cutler said. It is only when a student receives repeat citations and therefore, under the new law, a misdemeanor charge, that the Executive Committee takes action, she said.

“It’s not a change in policy,” Cutler said. “It’s just what we do.”

But under the new law, students have been receiving more citations for alcohol violations than in previous years, Cutler said.

According to YPD crime logs, the YPD has cited 12 infractions for minors consuming liquor, five for serving liquor to minors and 27 for “other liquor offenses.” But some confirmed violations are not noted in the logs.

Cutler said the Executive Committee will release its citation numbers until the end of the year.

Woznyk said the YPD and the University work together closely to make sure their policies are uniform. Woznyk said the Yale police would continue to respond to requests by administrators to break up parties and to enforce the law.

“If [administrators] have knowledge that there are students drinking who are not of the legal age, then these types of incidents should be directed to the police,” Woznyk said.

While University officials claim they have not changed their procedures, some students said they are not convinced.

Natalie Carlson ’10 said college administrators seem to have new attitudes toward drinking and parties.

“I feel like masters and deans are being forced to take action on things they wouldn’t personally care about,” she said.

But other students said they think that although the law has affected the way masters handle alcohol violations, masters have not let the change affect student life too much.

Jennifer James ’08, a Morse College freshman counselor, said she thinks administrators have maintained safety as a priority over punishment.

“The impact on masters has changed,” she said. “They feel bad because they have to enforce laws more than they have before. Yale has a very good approach: They recognize that completely banning alcohol is not a solution. They’re being as sensible as possible.”

Martine Powers contributed reporting.

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