Drugs for the Elite

AT the breakfast table, a college-president friend told me a depressing tale. A group of students from the college had been invited to a big bash in New York - very Ivy League, for yuppie alums who had made it big in their early years as brokers, execs, and folk-on-the-way. There were about 800 attendees and, so the students reported to their president, more than $3 million worth of available drugs. The undergrads were distressed enough by the drugs at hand to report the incident to the president. We should all be distressed. The alumni at this Manhattan million-dollar drug dance were from some of the most prestigious educational institutions in the nation. We will soon be reading the price tag for next year's tuition at these schools - my university, too - and gasping at the price. For the graduates, will that big tuition eventually translate into big salaries - and eventually into cocaine?

I have had to give enough speeches justifying the high cost of private education to know the basic rhetoric. Princeton in the nation's service; for God, for country, and for Yale; and all that. At Rochester we are at least pithy: meliora (``better'').

But hash is no way to serve the nation, God, alma mater, or meliora. If there is any excuse for elite institutions, it is that they supply exemplary leadership to society. Some example! It must be very consoling to the street kid on crack to know that he has already attained what the elite aspire to.

One can argue that colleges are not really in the business of determining the morals of the young. We can teach them differential equations and prosody, but ethics is a tangled and controversial area. Colleges are tolerant of all sorts of opinions, moral options, and life styles. And I do in fact think our present broad tolerance is better than our previous role as the moral nanny to the young. I'm all for tolerance - but not on drugs.

It may seem at times as if there are no academic mortal sins, but there are some: plagiarism is one. Students are expelled and even distinguished professors lose positions for plagiarism. The reason is obvious. Plagiarism pollutes the university's sole product: truth. If plagiarism pollutes the product, drugs pollute the producer.

There are many powerful arguments against drugs in the workplace, the board room, or the ballroom - but the one place they absolutely cannot be tolerated is in the classroom. Drugs are the exact contradiction of the meaning of a university. Freud said, ``Where id is there ego shall be.'' That is the sense of the university. Where there is dark unconscious, there shall be self-consciousness and knowledge. Drugs say that where clear self-consciousness is, there the dark, overwhelming power of unstructured feeling shall be. The issue between the university and drugs is nothing less than the struggle for the mind itself.

Drugs destroy the mind. That's self-evident with physiologically addictive drugs, which relentlessly destroy self-consciousness and person. With the ``soft'' drugs - marijuana and alcohol - the argument may be more complex. Unfortunately, particularly in student cultures, the soft drugs often exist in a culture of intoxication. The aim of use is to get stoned or smashed. That culture can hardly be compatible with the culture advertised in the college catalog.

We used to believe the Phi Beta Kappa slogan of intellectual achievement, philosophia biou kubernetes: philosophy, the guide of life. Now it appears that some elites think pharmacy is the guide of life. Not on the quad, thanks.

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