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Alcohol Enforcement: Middlebury College

Sixth in an eight-part series: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.

Midd Pic.jpg“Middlebury College has asked us not to come onto their campus and we respect that. Frankly, we have better things to do.” Tom Hanley, Chief of Police, Middlebury, Vermont. October 1, 2009.

After a fair bit of back and forth, including the failure of harsh enforcement policies that are still the norm at Dartmouth, Middlebury seems to have settled in to a tolerant alcohol régime. The institution accepts that student drinking will occur, and its various arms focus on student safety and the avoidance of needless penalties than could compromise a student’s future.

Comparing Dartmouth and Middlebury is useful because of the parallels between the schools: Middlebury’s Public Safety force is not a state/municipal police force; it is a non-sworn security service like Dartmouth’s Safety & Security. Vermont has internal possession laws like New Hampshire, and the town of Middlebury is closely tied to the college campus. And for better or for worse, Middlebury students, who total 2,350 compared to Dartmouth’s 4,150 undergrads, regard alcohol as an essential part of social life. The legal environment is marginally different. While still against the law, underage drinking in Vermont only results in enrollment in a diversion program rather than a police arrest, unless a minor has previously been through diversion three times.

However, the response of Middlebury College’s Public Safety force and the Middlebury town police to these formal rules is quite in opposition to the behavior of Dartmouth Safety & Security and the Town of Hanover Police Department.

Middlebury College’s Public Safety officers do not call in the town police on alcohol-related matters. Director of Public Safety Lisa Boudah confirmed to me that her officers will drive an intoxicated student to a dorm or for medical treatment in Public Safety vehicles if asked to do so. No insurance or liability concerns impede them. In emergency cases, a 911 call brings help from the Middlebury Volunteer Ambulance Association (MVAA) and transport to the Porter Medical Center; it does not elicit a police response. Alcohol-related ambulance calls occur 35-40 times each year according to MVAA chief operations officer Bill Edson.

Students may register kegs at official parties and when Public Safety officers walk through these events, underage students simply take care not to hold drinks in their hands when officers are present. Students report that Public Safety is somewhat less tolerant of hard liquor than of beer. Students caught drinking — usually egregious incidents — are subject to low-level sanctions that ramp up only after repeated violations. These matters are not usually disciplinary actions that need be reported under the Clery Act or on graduate school applications.

Middlebury town police officers stay off college property, and they turn a blind eye to alcohol infractions on public roads that bisect the campus. Chief Tom Hanley’s official position is that alcohol-related matters involving students are Middlebury College’s responsibility, not the town’s. In the event that police officers assist an intoxicated student, they deliver the student to the home or dorm of a responsible friend unless the level of intoxication puts the student at risk. In the latter case, quite rare, the student is normally put under medical care at a public inebriation facility near Rutland. Chief Hanley told me that his officers do not take students to Middlebury’s Porter Medical Center because managers there have asked not to deal with drunken students.

Why have Dartmouth and Hanover not adopted the same common sense procedures? You will have to ask that question directly to the College administration and the Town Manager. But you can be sure that their policies are the result of discretionary choices. Laws, insurance issues, and legal liability do not obligate them to behave in their current aggressive manner — despite what they may say. The proof of this proposition can be found in Middlebury, Vermont.


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