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Ethical Moving Targets: Hard versus Soft Liquor at Montana State University

By December 31, 2013 One Comment

In an article for Reuters News Service reported by Laura Zuckerman (December 10, 2013) entitled: “Montana State University imposes hard liquor ban at fraternity amid rape allegations,” we are introduced to a rather interesting ethical decision.

Montana StateThe case in question concerns Pi Kappa Alpha, an off-campus fraternity.

According to the article:

“Pi Kappa Alpha is one of two fraternities near the Bozeman campus at the center of investigations stemming from allegations by two female students that they were sexually assaulted in separate incidents over one weekend in September. Montana State immediately placed Pi Kappa Alpha and Sigma Chi fraternities under suspension…”

There were “penalties” put into place as a consequence of the suspension. The fraternities are being made to attend classes on the prevention of sexual assaults and, according to the report:

“As part of the sanctions unveiled on Monday, Pi Kappa Alpha is prohibited from serving hard liquor at future gatherings, though beer and wine will be allowed.”

This move is one which I believe to be completely bone-headed.

A bit of background

Montana State University has had its share of sexual assault problems; so much so, that last year the university was the subject of a federal investigation after being accused of mishandling rape reports. A lawsuit had been instituted and a settlement had been reached. In her article, Ms. Zuckerman reported:

“The settlement followed a yearlong federal investigation into complaints the Missoula campus had failed to aggressively pursue at least 11 sexual assault reports by students, three of them leveled against members of the school football team.”

This year, sanctions were immediately instituted against the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity after a female had come forward making an accusation that she had been raped at a fraternity party where alcohol was being served. The fraternity has stepped up in a sense and now some of the fraternity members will be designated to stay sober at parties to: “ensure all intoxicated guests are escorted home and not taken advantage of, sexually or otherwise.”

Time to throw the flag

It’s time for me to throw the penalty flag onto the ethical playing field and I say this as someone who annually trains thousands of people in ethics and, I suppose, as a father of college students.

My first penalty involves the “punishment” of prohibiting hard liquor from being served at fraternity gatherings, but wine and beer are somehow permissible.

To this point, I ask: “Where exactly is the penalty?” The last time I checked, a 12 ounce beer is about the equivalent of 1.5 ounces of whiskey. I am not even splitting hairs; there are fortified beers and wines that will create an even faster “buzz.” Who will check the bottles?

The “ban” being instituted in this case is no ban at all. It is a cover-up. If you are setting out to make a consequence for an unethical or illegal action, this is consequence more equivalent to a joke. If the university is going to ban alcohol, then ban it or shut up.

My second cry of foul concerns those fraternity members who are being appointed as “designated chaperones,” if you will. Therefore, am I to assume that if there are 250 young people at a party, and one or two “chaperones,” to oversee the activities, then that is sufficient?

Will these appointed students also take away keys from drunken students about to drive? Will they physically block an aggressive drunk who insists on walking a date to her dorm? What are the boundaries and the limitations? Why have chaperones at all at this stage?

If the fraternity or sorority is under investigation, why not prohibit all parties until the investigations are concluded? What, exactly, will the students do about a prohibition if they are “offended” by such an action? Will they go off in a huff and join the armed forces? Will they leave school and get jobs? No, they will do nothing, but they may be forced to understand consequences.

My third cry of foul involves the university itself. Why is this problem getting out of hand, and is there a culture here that needs to be addressed? What is the messaging that is reaching the students?

In the case of student-athletes, why isn’t there mandatory ethical training in place at the university for all athletes? Indeed, I strongly advocate ethical training for all student athletes.  

The university is missing a major opportunity to educate. Shouldn’t that be their prime responsibility?

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