Vice-Chancellor Brigety discusses new enforcement of drug and alcohol policy

By Colton Williams
Editor-in-Chief

On August 18, Vice-Chancellor Reuben Brigety released a video detailing the new approach to enforcing the University’s existing drug and alcohol policies. Under these new procedures – originally articulated July 30 – any student possessing, using, manufacturing, sharing, or distributing drugs will be suspended. Should the student be reinstated, a second infraction would result in expulsion. 

Brigety sat down with the Purple to further explain and discuss these policies. “We’re focused on a change in enforcement in order to give the existing policy both effect and a greater degree of coherence and uniformity,” Brigety said. 

The impetus for this changed policy of enforcement – decided on in consultation with the Board of Regents – is due in part to data from the annual Healthy Minds survey conducted by the University of Michigan and used by more than 600 colleges. The survey polls the student body on matters of mental health and social behavior. 

“The results of that for Sewanee are really very challenging,” Brigety said. “We are on the outer edge, more than double the national average for reported drug use among our students, as well as very high upper digit self-reported binge drinking… Over the last five years we have averaged 75-100 drug arrests on the Domain every year.”

Brigety insists that a change in the mode of enforcement of the University’s already-existing zero-tolerance policy is necessary in order to curb the problem of drug and alcohol abuse on campus. He noted that the “previously existing matrices of various types of enforcement” that attempted to “determine individual sanction based on the particular circumstances of a particular student” caused inequity in the application of sanctions.

In addition to changed methods of enforcement, Brigety also emphasized resources on campus for those struggling with addiction. “We have also long had a series of programs aimed at rehabilitation and recovery,” he said. “There are more both that have been authorized and that are coming online, with the creation of the new wellness center, and one of the first things I did when I arrived was authorize the hiring of a new counselor for mental health counseling, and there are other things that are already in the works that we will be able to announce later in the semester, early next semester as it relates to recovery from addiction.”

When asked about the new enforcement policy and the lack of distinction between specific drugs and specific individual circumstances, Brigety said “What you’re saying is, in the first instance, is that there should be some leeway for somebody who consumes narcotics for their first, second, third, which then leads you to all sorts of questions. So, what exactly is the cutoff? How many times do I tolerate your illegal activity before sanctions become more real?”

He repeatedly emphasized that any subsequent issues that may arise in sanctioning all come back to ‘first-order questions,’ namely, that all of the drugs in question are illegal and therefore should not be used by Sewanee students. 

“I guess I would ask the first-order question,” Brigety said when asked about students’ concerns of the severity of punishment. “First of all, the sanctions only matter if you intend to consume narcotics. So let’s go to the first-order question. You’re not really saying the sanctions are too much, what you’re really saying is that it’s too much for something I wish to do. Which is, to consume narcotics in contravention of the law. And in contravention of the stated policies of the University that predate my arrival. Now, that’s a legitimate debate. Legitimate in this sense: that I want to be able to smoke marijuana, I want to be able to snort cocaine, I want to be able to take ecstasy, I want to be able to drop acid.”

At another point, Brigety again stressed that narcotics are illegal and will not be tolerated. “We are not getting in the business of differentiating the severity of illegal drugs,” he said. “We are going by the law of the state.”

Under these enforcement procedures, the University will not refer anyone for prosecution who is in possession of a misdemeanor-amount of drugs. “Conversely,” he said, “if you are in felony possession, which in the state of Tennessee is, by definition, enough of whatever  – pills, marijuana, cocaine – to distribute, absolutely we’re calling the police and the district attorney. Because what’s the alternative? That we should tolerate drug users on the Domain? Somebody explain that to me.”

Part of the motivation for this changed enforcement is in the desire to change Sewanee’s reputation away from that of a party school.

“Sewanee is known at least as much as a party school – read: a school where students may consume narcotics without meaningful sanction – as much as we are known for almost anything else. For our Episcopal identity, or the strength of our academics, or the beauty of the natural Domain,” Brigety said. 

“Are we going to be a place that tolerates drug use or not? The data are clear,” he added. “They converge on this point. And the Regents have made clear that we’re not going to be.”

Brigety addressed the criticism he has received online, saying “That comes with the territory, I respect that. I am prepared to absorb their anger in order to get the University and our community to the right place on this. And that’s what I’m going to do.”

4 comments

  1. You certainly skirted over the policy on underage drinking. Many responsible, meaning, intelligent adults believe that 18 year olds on a college campus should be allowed to consume alcohol in moderation. If this is not tolerated surely 18-20 year olds will simply leave campus in order to consume, therefor risking accidents or worse. If I’m not mistaken, this was VC Mccardell’s argument as well.

  2. Will professors be allowed to teach that the tough on crime drug policies you’ve enthusiastically embraced were deliberately designed to subjugate minorities and silence political dissidents? How do you rationalize your progressive rhetoric with your draconian and regressive policing policies? What about students with immigration status issues, will you hand them over to federal authorities knowing they may never be allowed to return to the country much less the school? Felony possession can be determined by simply having two different kinds of weed in different bags or merely owning a scale at the time of a raid regardless of volume and can be punished by up to a decade in federal prison. I’m incredibly shocked and disappointed that you would unleash such deliberately destructive policies on a community for no articulable gain. There can be no doubt in any decent person’s mind that you are not in “the right place on this”.

  3. I was glad to see mention of the non-punitive supports that are in place for students and to hear confirmation that they will be expanded. They are as or more fundamental to the mitigation of the problems and the support for the students building their character than the accountability measures. The two strategies require one another for success (I believe), and I hope to see greater visibility for the health and wellness tools as well as continued transparency around policy enforcement developments as these efforts move forward.

  4. Sometime the simple answer is the correct answer. The University has no choice institutionally but to be on the side of the law. To take any other position weakens the institution and fails the students. Among other things, students need to learn that their choices have consequences. Not all offenders will be caught. That is no reason to turn a blind eye to the offenses. If you are committed to the concept of 18 as the legal drinking age and want pot and other drugs legalized, work to change the law. Dragging the institution in as a fellow scofflaw is not a viable option.

    Underage drinking is a systemic problem in all of higher education. It has been tolerated for far too long. Nobody says going against the tide will be easy. It is especially hard when so many alumni, myself included, have so many memories and stories that involved drinking.

Leave a Reply to Morgan Hall, C’69 Cancel reply