BOSTON University, voted in college guidebooks ``the most promiscuous university in the country,'' is cleaning up its act. Already cracking down on alcohol use, it is introducing new rules governing dormitory behavior, and specifically overnight visits by students of the opposite sex.
This is fairly significant in itself, and has raised a fair hullabaloo on the university's campus.
But it has much wider ramifications. For it is an invitation, a goad, a challenge, to other universities to reconsider their own rules of student conduct which may have sagged, or become eroded, and sometimes virtually disappeared, since the campus permissiveness of the 1960s and '70s.
When authorities at Boston University became swamped with letters from angry parents protesting overnight mingling in the dormitories, they set up a task force to look at the problem. One mother complained directly to BU president John Silber that her daughter's roommate had kept house with a boyfriend for two months in the room the two girls shared.
The task force - which included university officials, students, and parents - held open meetings with students, and sought the views of parents, staff, and alumni.
Many students protested any rules that would encroach upon their freedom. But as the task force unanimously agreed: ``to have visitors is a privilege, not a right.'' So the task force recommended rules that would regulate late-night visitors and overnight guests. Dr. Silber toughened them up a little and expects to see them in operation by next fall.
All this does not mean that sex will vanish from the university campus. Indeed, Silber himself concedes that the university isn't going to ``police the dormitories rigorously enough to exclude every guest of the opposite sex.'' But he does think the university has ``an obligation to discourage behavior that is not in the best interests of the educational and social development of students.'' Therefore, the university has stepped up to the challenge and set the rules.
In so doing, Silber says he has balanced the desire of students to have study mates or guests in their rooms against the right of their roommates to have ``reasonable conditions'' for individual study and sleep. Henceforth, visitors can enter dormitories between 8 a.m. and 11 p.m., provided they leave by 1 a.m.
Students can have overnight visitors of the same sex up to five times a semester, except for the first two weeks of school and during reading and examination periods. Overnight visitors of the opposite sex will be restricted to members of the student's immediate family - parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, and uncles.
Silber says he doesn't want to restrict the freedom of dormitory residents but to maximize it. Basically, he says, the university wants to rely as heavily as possible on the ``good faith and sense of responsibility'' of individual students. But the idea that there is absolute freedom - freedom unlimited by the rights and interests of others - is, he says, a misunderstanding of the concept of freedom. Such ``freedom'' would be ``merely license, and the consequence mere anarchy.'' No civilized society, says Silber, can permit having its members - whether adults or not - function without rules.
Silber says his position is supported by parents in a proportion of about 30 to 1.
BU has faced up to its problem and tackled it with common sense.
Let other universities take note.