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Letter to Education Secretary Spellings-

December 2005

December 8, 2005

Secretary Margaret Spellings

Department of Education

400 Maryland Avenue, SW

Washington, DC 20202

 Dear Secretary Spellings:

This letter and the enclosures are intended to make the Department of Education aware of a campus environment, which by all indications, that has not met its obligations under Federal law to limit illegal alcohol uses.  Such inattention resulted in three deaths within a two-week period in early 2005.

In 1998, Congress added USC Section 1011h which offered the “Sense of Congress” that institutions of higher education should develop policies to reduce alcohol and drug-related problems.  Also added was Section 1011i which tied participation in Federal funded programs to taking measures which aim to comply with the stated sense of Congress.  Included in actions required to be taken by institutions of higher education were standards of conduct that prohibit unlawful use of alcohol and a statement of sanctions to be imposed on violators.  The act further requires a biennial review by the institution to ensure that sanctions are consistently enforced.

The student handbook for Paul Smith College located in up-state New York contains provisions which appear to satisfy the first requirement of adopting a standard of conduct.  However, early in 2005 three alcohol deaths occurred which caused me to question whether the College met the latter requirement of enforcing those standards with appropriate sanctions.  What was found in the police report for the second of the two accidents, in which two college students died in a snowmobile accident, was an atmosphere where campus drinking was rampant and seemingly uncontrolled and allowed to exist without fear of consequences.  Furthermore, the statements of students and reaction of the College employees seemed to provide evidence of lack of enforcement as required by Federal statutes to be recurring at the College.

Since Congress recognizes the seriousness of underage drinking on college campuses, an inquiry by the Department of Education into the incidents at Paul Smith College is warranted.  To the extent that the College followed the form of the statute and not the spirit, there must be consequences as provided by the statute.  Without such action by the Department of Education, Paul Smith College and other institutions of higher education will likely not take compliance with the statutes seriously.

To assist the Department in your assessment as to whether a review is warranted, the following is enclosed:

  1. Excerpts from Public Law 105-244 containing the relevant provisions.
  2. Selected pages from the Paul Smith College Student Handbook containing their alcohol-related policies and sanctions.
  3. A copy of a newspaper article from the Pressrepublican in Plattsburg, New York, covering the snowmobile accident with a reference to the prior truck accident.
  4. Selected statements from participants and school employees as included in the police report for the investigation of the snowmobile accident.  Although these constitute a small portion of all the statements in the police report, they demonstrate the College’s response to an obviously dangerous situation where drinking was very much a risk factor.  Additionally, the statements provide compelling descriptions of activities that evening, both on and off the ice, which seem to depict prevailing practices at the college.  (Please read past the statement by the Director of Student Affairs since the others largely conflict with her account.)

The final enclosure is a summary of the events that weekend that my wife and I wrote in an effort to increase awareness of the prevalence and serious consequences of drinking on campus and underage drinking in general.  As you can see, one of the two victims in the snowmobile accident was my daughter Kristine.  Her tragedy has compelled my wife and me to confront this significant issue and use Kristine’s tragedy as a sad example of the failure of adults to live up to their responsibilities.  Hopefully, the Department will take a serious look at the events at Paul Smith College and the approach to campus drinking by College administrators leading up to the tragedies.  Quite possibly, we may find fewer parents facing the ongoing grief and despair that my wife and I are experiencing.

 Thank you for your attention to my request and please contact me if you would like any further information, including the complete police report.

 Very truly yours,

 

Stephen M. Guest

5 East Maxwell Drive

West Hartford, CT 06107

860-561-3995

sm_guest5@yahoo.com

 

cc.  Congresswoman Nancy Johnson

 

Update--Governmental Failure to Enforce Failure to Enforce Federal Law to Protect Students-Confirmed-see IG Report-3/14/12

 
 
 
 
 
   
   
 

CompelledToAct.com

 

 
  Concerned about the drinking culture on campuses?
   

This site provides information as to the seriousness of the problem.

   

 

 

In loving Memory of Kristine Guest