Date of Award

Summer 2008

Project Type


Program or Major

Justice Studies

Degree Name

Master of Arts

First Advisor

Todd DeMitchell


This thesis focuses on current issues in public institutes of higher education (IHE) regarding policy and enforcement of alcohol consumption regulations for students. The unique nature of higher education in which some of the students are not of legal drinking age and some are, and the residential aspect of many public IHEs compounds the issue of policy development and enforcement. The challenge of developing a coherent approach to drinking is viewed through the two lenses of law and philosophy. Specifically, how has the legal relationship between public IHE and student developed and how can selected philosophical inquiries inform such alcohol policies?

Historically the relationship between the public IHE and student was simple: the public IHE acted with the same authority that a parent could act to regulate students' behavior; this relationship was called in loco parentis and was based on the presumption that the public IHE was a special place, where students were privileged to attend, and that the public IHE could make any reasonable policies necessary for the control and development of its students much like a parent controls the actions of their child. The first portion of this thesis follows the evolution of this relationship from the straightforward in loco parentis model, to the modern relationship that has been defined through tort liability, the application of the regulations for contractual relationships, and a demand for respect for students' constitutional rights. Included is a discussion on the nature of the conduct process, and how the application of the parental notification letter to students, now permitted by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, have shaped this relationship. These new guidelines have blurred the goals of the public IHE in policy-making because the public IHE is an academic and educational institution; both society and students look to their universities for guidance and educational experiences. The public IHE is no longer acting in place of the parent. Its relationship with its students became complicated through its legal duty under theories of negligence, the rise of the contractual relationship, and the obligation to protect their constitutional rights.

Under the framework of the relationship as it has been shaped through legal precedent, this thesis addresses three major philosophical perspectives. First there is an exploration of Immanuel Kant's enlightenment theory of reason. Using the categorical imperative and practical imperative as guides, the morality of alcohol consumption policies is used as an analytical tool. Jeremy Bentham's utilitarian principles as applied to social learning theory and deterrence theories in criminology are used to explore if the benefits of current policies are outweighing the negatives. Finally, Karl Marx's philosophy of ideological reflexes is used to explore how the cultural values of one code of conduct match up to the cultural influences of society.

Through the legal and philosophical examinations, it is concluded that the public IHE is bound by legal restrictions to maintain codes of conduct that are not working for a variety of reasons when viewed through the philosophical lens. These restrictions create inconsistencies in policy and enforcement, and run counter to the predominant culture surrounding alcohol consumption. Public IHEs are viewed as a special place for students to learn and grow, but with the obstacles of prevailing cultural norms and legal restrictions, the public IHE alone will be unable to address the problems associated with alcohol consumption through the use of policy. Law defines the duties and obligations the IHE owes to its students. Philosophical views seek to provide coherence of duties and obligations. An analysis of the convergence of these two structures provides a foundation upon which the public IHE can develop coherence for the pursuit of its special mission. Due to concerns about safety and the prestige of the academic environment, the public IHE cannot simply ignore the risks associated with alcohol consumption, but in conclusion, the public IHE is hindered in creating appropriate and/or effective policies.