BIRMINGHAM University student Andrew Lockley has been reported to the police and suspended from his degree course just weeks before finals for admitting using and supplying drugs in an article written for The THES.
The decision to suspend and report Mr Lockley has highlighted divisions within universities about how to deal with student drug-taking; whether to provide information to students about safe ways to take drugs and their harmful side effects or to crack down hard on offenders.
In 1995 Philip Davies, a law student at the same university, died after sniffing heroin supplied by a graduate dealing from the student union. Eighteen months ago the dealer, 24-year-old Alex Johnson, was jailed for five years. Since March 1995 there have been ten drug-related disciplinary cases at the university, two involving the police. In all but one cannabis was the only drug involved.
Mr Lockley's article praised Birmingham for "beginning to realise the need to change" its hardline approach. Universities, he wrote, must accept that most students have tried illegal drugs and instead of being judgemental concentrate on "minimising the harm associated with drug use".
In the article, published last Friday, Mr Lockley, a fourth-year engineering student, says he supplied cannabis to friends. He says that he has stopped dealing but still uses drugs.
In letters to newspapers after Mr Davies's death, both his mother, Pamela, and A. K. Cotter, who represented the family at the inquest, criticised the softly-softly approach of the universities to drug taking. Mr Cotter said he had been told by senior representatives of Birmingham University that they had a non-judgemental policy when advising students about drugs - drawing no distinction between beer, cigarettes and cocaine. He called this an "abdication of responsibility".
The allegations were dismissed at the time as unfounded and were rejected again this week by university spokesman Frank Albrighton. Mrs Davies called for random drug testing of students and for those who failed the tests to be expelled.
In the letter telling Mr Lockley of his suspension, Birmingham's registrar David Holmes refers to Mr Davies's death. "This university takes a serious view of the taking and supplying of drugs I not least because in the recent past it has led to the death of one of its students," he writes. He also notes that Lockley's article "makes a number of valuable points about the need for approaches other than discipline to deal with the drug culture".
Mr Lockley has initially been suspended for three months. During this time he will be able to enter the university only to sit his final exams and to talk to his personal tutor. Any further disciplinary action will depend on the outcome of police investigations.
This week he said he was worried he was being made an example of and that his degree was in jeopardy. "If I cannot enter the campus I will fail because I am doing project work which has to be done on campus," he said.
Mr Albrighton defended the university's drug-related policies and drew a strong distinction between using cannabis and supplying it. After first saying that taking cannabis was not a criminal offence he then corrected himself: "The police know taking cannabis is an offence yet they do not prosecute in every single case. This is a difficult problem for society. Society has not solved it. We are doing our best."
Leader, page 11