You really have to hand it to The New York Times. This past Saturday, page A27 featured a story about a 12-year-old boy who smuggled 87 packages of heroin in order to finance his trip from Nigeria to the United States. And, right above it, there was another drug-related article — this one about Yale’s recent decision to reimburse students denied federal financial aid because of drug offenses.
The juxtaposition of these two stories emphasizes that Yale’s new policy on the drug-free provision of the Higher Education Act, which has received much praise from students, deserves nothing but the strongest condemnation.
The University’s decision to reward criminal behavior by reimbursing students who have lost federal aid under this provision sends the wrong message about drug use and runs contrary to the principles Yale should — and used to — embrace.
Many have argued that the administration’s step is the right one because education shouldn’t be used to fight the drug war, and students shouldn’t lose the ability to attend college simply because they’ve used drugs. But attending college — especially a school like Yale — is hardly a right. Even if it were, convicted criminals often forfeit real rights, like the ability to vote. Comparatively speaking, losing out on a year’s worth of financial aid is a light punishment. And because attending a university like Yale is an enormous privilege, it brings with it — as do all privileges — certain responsibilities, such as refraining from criminal behavior.
Others support the new provision by claiming that drug use isn’t that bad and shouldn’t be illegal. Some have said that it is no worse an offense than underage drinking, and because drinking isn’t punished, neither should drug use. But two wrongs don’t make a right; the solution is to also penalize the abuse of alcohol in addition drugs instead of simply permitting both.
For despite one’s beliefs about whether or not narcotics should be prohibited, the fact remains that they are currently illegal. Their usage demonstrates a contempt for the laws and those who make and enforce them. Even if prohibition was a mistake, does it make Al Capone any less of a criminal? The student convicted of drug use, like all criminals, thinks he is above the law; this is hardly the type of person Yale should be admitting, let alone financially rewarding. In a time long-ago forgotten, when Yale actually cared about the moral fiber of its student body, would it have gone out of its way to pay convicted criminals to attend the university?
This character question doesn’t end with the individual student, but also stains the entire university. Yale’s decision to reimburse convicted drug users for lost aid is not illegal, per se — as a private institution Yale can distribute its financial resources as it sees fit. But in choosing to undercut Congress’ decision, the Yale administration shows this same contempt for federal laws and those who make them. If, as in the last line of our alma mater, Yale really is “For Country,” how is meeting federal law with scorn consistent with this principle?
The fact is that the Yale administration has prostituted principle to kowtow to a small but vocal lobby. But unfortunately this issue has a wider scope than any individual student, any lobby, or even the University.
Perhaps the greatest damage done by the new policy is through example. There’s no denying that Yale is a university of great influence; it seeks to produce leaders in all fields and has, by and large, succeeded. As such, many look to Yale as an example of this leadership. Middle schoolers and high schoolers may dream of attending Yale in the hopes of becoming such leaders.
Yale had a great opportunity to show these students the perils of drug use, but instead has said to young people across the country “use drugs, be a criminal, and we’ll go out of our way to make you welcome here.” There used to be a commercial that ended with the phrase “no one says ‘I want to be a junkie when I grow up'” — but apparently this ambition is perfectly acceptable at Yale. Perhaps “Narcotic Studies” can be the next department added under the new academic review.
The bottom line is that Yale, with its new policy, has seriously damaged its credibility and its image and the credibility and image of its students. The new policy will not actually benefit students since no Yale student has ever lost federal aid under the drug provision.
It is, as university spokesmen Thomas Conroy admitted, merely a public statement — much like the similarly misguided decision to reimburse draft-dodging students during the Vietnam War. This statement says all the wrong things about the university. Instead of upholding and supporting federal law, Yale has undermined it. Instead of punishing criminal behavior, Yale has chosen to reward it. Instead of taking the right stand on the war on drugs — a war in which the enemy creates heroin-carrying 12-year-olds, puts profits in the hands of terrorists and warlords that kill and oppress thousands, and utterly destroys countless lives — Yale has chosen to side with that enemy.
One only has to wonder if administrators weren’t toking up themselves when they chose to usher in the new era of a drug- and criminal-friendly Yale.
Meghan Clyne is a junior in Branford College. Her columns will begin appearing on alternate Wednesdays.