New Law Hits Off Site Students

Boston-area students planning to move off-campus may still have their schools looking over their shoulders.

The University Accountability Ordinance, which is on the docket for today’s City Council meeting, would require Boston universities to collect a directory of all undergraduate and graduate students regardless of whether they live on campus. The measure is being proposed by Boston City Councillors Michael P. Ross and Jerry P. McDermott.

Citing instances of disruptive student behavior off-campus in Allston, Brighton and Mission Hill, Jerome M. Smith, Ross’ chief of staff, said the law would allow Boston officials to determine which zip codes have a high population of students.

“The aggregate numbers will show us where the student population is throughout the city, and we’ll be able to use provide better safe services,” he said.

But Smith said that Harvard undergraduates will not be affected by the law, which pertains only to students in Boston.

Harvard has approximately 130 to 180 off-campus undergraduates mostly in Cambridge, Somerville and Watertown, according to Associate Dean of the College Thomas H. Dingman ’67.

Ross proposed the law after discovering that universities weren’t keeping appropriate records on their off-campus students, Smith said. “They would have a New York address as opposed to having the Mission Hill address, which is where the student actually lived,” he said.

Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 said that while registration is optional for Harvard’s off-campus students, the College is fairly successful at keeping track of them. “We have all of their home addresses, and the local addresses for about two thirds of them,” he said in an interview.

Under the new law, if police notify universities of “rowdy student behavior,” universities can refer to the directory to carry out their own disciplinary hearings, Smith said. “This law is not geared towards students, it’s geared towards universities,” he emphasized.

Off-campus students who attend Boston colleges questioned the efficacy of the proposed ordinance. “I feel like cracking down on people for partying is like cracking down on people for breathing,” said Dave E. Horwicz, a senior at Emerson College.

An initial draft of the ordinance included a section requiring directories to be submitted to the police department and the Inspectional Services Department, but this part was omitted after widespread controversy, Smith said. “I wouldn’t say the students are cheering us on…one of the responses from the student population was concern about their rights being trampled on,” Smith said. “The section was taken out, and now they’re comfortable with the ordinance.”

But not all students are satisfied. “Sounds like Big Brother looking over my shoulder,” said Vaughan P. O’Neal, a senior at Suffolk University. “I’m not really opposed to it, but obviously my privacy is kind of important,” he said. “I don’t know what this is going to lead to, I mean are they going to put dog tags on me, or GPS tracking devices?”