How Liberal Can a Liberal Arts College Be?

Can a liberal arts college foster a culture of experimentation and personal growth while also ensuring the safety of its students? Connecticut’s Wesleyan University has long had a reputation for progressive students and politics (“Keep Wesleyan Weird” is a common refrain on campus), but after a headline-grabbing drug debacle this spring, the community finds itself grappling with the boundaries of freedom on campus. Writing for Rolling Stone, Emily Greenhouse reconstructs the events leading up to the Molly-induced hospitalization of twelve students and the subsequent drug busts while also asking broader questions about what it means to be a progressive institution:

Of course, encouraging a culture of personal experimentation is not always compatible with the age limits (and legal liabilities) present at a residential college. In the wake of the hospitalizations, law enforcement, with help from the university, launched a speedy investigation. When students learned the extent of the school’s cooperation, many felt rattled, even hurt. It was bad enough to know classmates and friends were suffering in hospital beds; for many, it was worse still to see their peers arrested on charges of drug dealing, and promptly dismissed from the school. How could a university ostensibly dedicated to fostering personal growth suddenly crack down?

***

The university is back in session for a new academic year. Last month, freshmen students enjoyed gender-bending festivities, cross-cultural dancing and Italian ices. President Roth gave the first State of the School address. But as the arrested former students prepare for their day in court — and as colleges across the country struggle with controversies over sexual assault, racism, binge-drinking and drug use — a central question looms: When students at an educational institution that prizes experimentation want to experiment with risky behavior, how liberal can a liberal-arts college be?

Read the story