Boston University, students spar over limits on dormitory visits. Heated debate greets Silber decision; many on campus oppose shift

By , Staff writer of The Christan Science Monitor

Phil Donahue and Abbie Hoffman are talking about it. Students are protesting it. Parents are complaining about it. But the problem with Boston University, according to its president, John Silber, is the problem with America. Discipline.

Dr. Silber says that the heated discussion over proposed changes in the visitation policies for campus residence halls is not a question of morality, but of civilization.

``Teaching the difference between freedom and license is not a bad thing for a university to be caught doing,'' Silber says.

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Many students say they are angry because they were not consulted beforehand and came to college to be able to make decisions for themselves. But at least a few of their parents are outraged at the thought of paying for higher education while their children's roommates give them a sex education.

The policy changes limiting visits by members of the opposite sex to between 8 a.m. and 11 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. and 1 a.m. on weekends is expected to take effect in January when students return from winter recess.

Some onlookers say the upheaval at Boston University is not part of a trend back to non-coed dormitories or fundamental values.

``Silber is just trying to turn students of this school into super students,'' says senior Lee Eric Newton. ``When I get out of BU, my education is going to be worth a lot.''

Although Mr. Newton says he understands the university's position, he does not support the policy. He says it infringes on the rights of students and such infringements must be resisted.

``Silber thinks we're too apathetic to organize. I want us to get a class consciousness.''

Stephen Trachtenberg, president of George Washington University in the District of Columbia, says both the policy and its presentation are vintage Silber, and ``they may be overkill.''

Most university presidents, Mr. Trachtenberg says, would have proposed such changes on an experimental basis and would have created a climate for acceptance of the idea well in advance.

But Trachtenberg says Silber is ``not your garden-variety university president.''

``He is, in many ways, a revolutionary, a premature advocate of ideas that become popular five to 10 years later.''

``This is a discussion about vision and principle,'' Trachtenberg says. ``It's not a sporting event in which there's going to be a winner and loser.'' And principle is not something you test on a pilot basis, he says.

Ghazale Afshari, a first-year student from Philadelphia, says she went to an all-girl high school because she thought she wanted time to develop her self-confidence. ``But I wouldn't have gone to an all women's college because college is supposed to be a little microcosm of the real world,'' Ms. Afshari says. ``And does the real world stop at 11 p.m.?''

Warren Binford, vice-president of the Student Union and a four-year dorm resident, says many students resent the policy as an intrusion on their privacy.

``As small and as sparse and as overpriced as they [dorm rooms] may be, these are our homes. We are asking for the privilege of bringing alcohol into our homes,'' Mr. Binford says.

``If we let them break our spirit this time, who knows where they're going to stop,'' he says.

(Under another policy change, beer and wine are to be allowed in 72-ounce quantities per resident over 21 years of age. No beer kegs or hard liquor will be allowed.)

Though most of BU's 8,300 dorm residents appear to be opposed to the proposed policy changes, James Reynolds, a junior who says he has been victimized by roommate excesses, says he thinks some students simply have anti-administration sentiments.

Mr. Reynolds says the administration's ideas are well guided and that some restrictions are needed.

Ronald Carter, BU's dean of students, says that the pattern of infractions and common vein of complaints from parents, students, and members of the neighboring communities provide sufficient evidence to urge concern for the quality of life in residence halls.

A survey of building use last year reported some 4,500 guests in residence halls during the average week.

``The university is not running hotels,'' Mr. Carter says.

Carter says that providing a secure and disturbance-free atmosphere for students is his responsibility. He says that legislating morality is neither his responsibility nor the university's intent.

``If it were a sex policy, then we wouldn't have coed dorms,'' Carter says.

``Serious students study seriously'' read the buttons the dean of students has handed out among students.

``And if we do not provide an environment in which to study seriously, we're not doing our job,'' Carter says.

A Sept. 30 article about dormitory policy changes at Boston University misidentified Warren Binford. Also a statement by senior Lizzy Friedman was incorrectly attributed to Ms. Binford. The statement was, ``If we let them break our spirit this time, where are they going to stop?''

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