Keeping Them Safe

The first duty of college administrators is not to educate or improve, it is to keep students safe

                                   By David A. Mittell, Jr.
     We raise them up to let them go, and when they go our faith is strained with wondering if they will come back. A child's entrance into college is a particularly anxious time for parents. Most college students experiment with thoughts, and often behavior, that challenge certitudes; and at the drop of a blackout curtain none of it is their parents' business. The word "sophomoric" captures it. No one is thought to be dumber than the parents of a student who has been off in college for a year!
     As it is for parents, the first duty of college administrators is not to educate or improve, it is to keep students safe and so alive to be educated and improved. Parents can only hope for their precious child to be wise enough and lucky enough to stay safe. Today's college students have the advantage of having parents who do not insist they be replicas of themselves – in former times down to attending the same schools and entering the same careers, however unfitting. But there are new dangers, the most lethal of which are opioid drugs.
     Alcohol's dangers have always been around. John Adams had a son (John Quincy) who throve at Harvard, and another (Thomas Boylston) who found at Harvard the alcohol to which he would lose his life. Recently, my paternal namesake, who is 96 and has tasted of this life, was reading The Boston Globe. He looked up from the page and asked, "What are opioids?"
     The answer is that opioids are cheap, instantly and often invisibly addictive drugs that can destroy young people in the flower of their coming of age – with or without evident emotional problems. These opioids are all around us in house breaks, bank robberies and holdups at coffee shops and convenience stores.
     Several public safety agencies recently held a day-long drill inside Duxbury's soon-to-be demolished Eben Howes Ellison School. It was preparation for an armed school invasion, the statistical likelihood of whose happening is almost zero. It not being zero, the exercise is not to be second-guessed. But pray we do not ignore the opioid calamity that is happening and will happen.
     An illustration of what a family entrusting its child to college can face took place at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, on Oct. 4, 2013. Parents arriving for a family weekend found their son dead of a heroin overdose in his bathroom. They would learn that ten months earlier he had been arrested for selling the hallucinogen LSD to a campus police officer. He was then recruited to be a police informant, with no charges filed, and with the proviso that his parents not be informed of his arrest. These facts are not in dispute.
      The boy's mother now says that her son's heroin dealer, who was identifiable in text messages on her son's cell phone, was not investigated and is still on campus. It is clear that campus police were out of control, and whether or not they were under control of school administrators the latter are accountable.
     It is for parents to decide if it is now safe to entrust their high school juniors and seniors to the heretofore well-regarded UMass Amherst. I will only say that if it were my own son or daughter right now I would not.
                                                 –D.A. Mittell, Jr.
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