UHS Visits for Alcohol Overdoses Not Cause for Discipline


In recent weeks it has been suggested that the College, in its efforts to control the abuse of alcohol, has received information from the University Health Services about students who have been treated for alcohol overdose, so that disciplinary action could be brought against them. This is untrue and contrary to both College and UHS policies; I should like to set the record straight, and to explain the rationale and actual operation of our policies.

A student who seeks medical assistance for the effects of alcohol use will not be disciplined for having violated the College's alcohol policies. We do not want students to hesitate to seek medical care out of fear of disciplinary consequences for their drinking. We also do not want students to hesitate to seek help for a drunken friend out of a reluctance to "get their friend in trouble."

(Note, however, that a student who violated some other rule or standard of conduct while drunk would not be relieved from responsibility for that action simply because medical assistance was sought. So, for example, an intoxicated student who assaulted a police officer while being conveyed to UHS would likely be held accountable for the assault, though not for the drinking.)

Under its well-established policies, the University Health Services will not disclose to a College officer the reasons why a student has sought medical attention without the student's permission to do so. UHS will, however, notify the House or Freshman Dean's Office of the fact that the student has been admitted to or discharged from Stillman Infirmary or a hospital. The only information provided is the notice of admission or discharge, and this notification is given so that the resident dean will know when the student is expected to be living in the House or freshman dormitory--information that can be vital in case of emergency.

In practice, when a dean knows that a student is in Stillman, he or she may visit the student to offer assistance in academic arrangements or personal needs. The student is free to, and may wish to, disclose information about his or her medial situation for personal or practical reasons, but such information will not be provided by the medical staff.

Students who provide alcohol to underage drinkers are in violation of state law and, hence, College rules. A student who has provided alcohol to an underage drinker will not automatically be exonerated from his or her responsibility for that act merely because the drinker has become so overdosed that the provider seeks medical attention for the drinker.

Of course, no one is subject to discipline for the act of seeking help for another who is in danger; indeed to do so is part of a fundamental moral responsibility we all share. However, exercise of this moral responsibility does not automatically result in relief from personal responsibility for other actions.

As in many other questions of appropriate behavior, there is no simple rule to characterize what acts will result in which disciplinary responses; the College's Administrative Board tries to understand the context, intent and history of a student's behavior in applying its general principles to particular cases.

Questions or comments on college policies may be directed to me or to any of the Allston Burr Senior Tutors or Assistant or Associate Deans of Freshmen. Inquiries about health aspects of alcohol consumption may be directed to the Center for Health Education (5-9629) or to its undergraduate peer health education group, Project ADD (Alcohol & Drug Dialogue, 6-1214); questions about policies of UHS may be addressed to the Director, Dr. David Rosenthal. We well recognize that many questions in this area have no simple or easy answers, and our policies are under regular review to ensure that they provide maximum benefit to the welfare of students, within overriding ethical and legal constraints. --Harry R. Lewis '68   Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science   Dean of Harvard College