American universities have a potent weapon in their war on students who drink under age or use illegal drugs on campus: they can legally tell the student's parents.
New government regulations allow universities to notify parents if students violate an alcohol or drug law, even if they are over 18 and financially independent.
Strict student privacy laws previously prevented parents being informed of such infractions. But under the new rules universities may "disclose to parents and legal guardians of students under the age of 21, without the student's consent, information regarding the student's violation of any federal, state or local law, or any rule or policy of the institution governing the use or possession of alcohol or a controlled substance".
"It just makes good sense," said Stanley Koplik, chancellor of higher education in the state of Massachusetts, which immediately required public universities and colleges to inform parents when students under the legal drinking age of 21 are found with alcohol on campus.
"Parents want to know when there's been behaviour by their son or daughter that will jeopardise the academic career and certainly the public safety of the individual. They are, after all, in most cases paying the bill."
In most other states, notifying parents of such disciplinary
lapses remains at the discretion of universities. But now that it is allowed many are vowing to try it.
One of the first, the University of Delaware, has already reported an early decline in repeat offences by students whose parents were informed of violations. George-
town University, Clemson University, Lafayette College and Indiana University are among others that have quickly adopted parent-notification policies or plan to do so in the autumn.
In Massachusetts, universities were encouraged to withhold information from parents who might react abusively. But that has not stopped civil liberties organisations from objecting to the rules, claiming they discriminate against college students.