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Doubting duLac: ND crime and punishment

Observer Viewpoint | Friday, November 11, 2005

duLac.

Mention the coda of the University’s formal name at a packed dining hall table and you’ll inspire exaggerated eye-rolls, indifferent sighs and pained looks of disgust. But these jaded reactions to “duLac: A Guide to Student Life” mask a pervasive lack of student understanding about the policies described in Notre Dame’s thick gospel of discipline.

Few students bother to read duLac in its entirety, relying instead on an abundance of rumors and urban legends to shape their perspectives of the University’s disciplinary landscape. Nearly every Notre Dame undergraduate has heard about that guy who was kicked off campus just for drinking a beer in his dorm’s hallway and about that girl whose rector twice caught her breaking parietals but let her off without so much as a warning. Stories like these – some true, some not – contribute to a climate of uncertainty and distrust, as students often struggle to reconcile the truth with the fiction, the apparent punishment with the crime.

Turning to each other for context, students busted for underage drinking at bars, parties and tailgates are quick to compare notes about hall staff and ResLife punishments. Chatter that certain dorms and bars have a reputation for lenience spreads rapidly, as does news that others are cracking down. What it all adds up to is a disciplinary picture that’s drenched in student bitterness, but whose true form is lost in a fog of anger and complaints.

In publishing a six-part series focusing on discipline at Notre Dame, which begins today and continues through next Friday, The Observer hopes to bring some clarity to that picture. Drawing on interviews with the administrators who shape the University’s rules; the police, rectors and R.A.s who enforce them; and the students who abide by and break them, the series hopes to push to the surface many of Notre Dame’s festering disciplinary debates. Why are some offenses punished more severely than others? Is having sex considered worse than drinking underage? Than cheating on a test? When is forcing offending students off-campus an appropriate punishment? Has it always been this way? Whose best interests are at heart?

Devoting straightforward attention to and encouraging candid discussion of these issues can only benefit the Notre Dame community. The Observer hopes this series can serve as a starting point.