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Suspension demands clarification

Staff Editorial | Friday, January 26, 2007

Twenty-five days. That’s how long it took Notre Dame basketball player Kyle McAlarney to hear from the University as to how he would be punished for his late December arrest on misdemeanor marijuana possession charges.

That’s quite some time, especially considering that it took St. Joseph County only 18 days – until Jan. 17 – to rule that McAlarney should enter into a pre-trial diversion program.

Yes, the arrest occurred over winter break, so it probably took the Office of Residence Life and Housing significantly longer to handle the case. And yes, Notre Dame isn’t allowed, under federal law, to comment on individual disciplinary proceedings.

But don’t students, basketball fans and, apparently, the McAlarneys deserve just a little clarification?

Notre Dame is a private, Catholic institution, and those who elect to come here know to expect several differences from other college environments. But it’s unfair that students, coaches and parents – at least in this case – do not know exactly what to expect.

The administration needed close to a month to respond to a case picked up by the national media hours after McAlarney was arrested and sorted out by South Bend a week before the school could issue its decision.

During this span, McAlarney attended classes and practiced with the basketball team, before being suspended from a semester he was allowed to begin. If he received word in a more timely fashion, McAlarney could have moved on with his life at a different school, with hopes to return to Notre Dame or intentions to start over somewhere else.

It’s easy to say that McAlarney should have known, that possession is frequently grounds for suspension at Notre Dame, that he shouldn’t expect to be treated differently than any other student.

Except, for some reason, his mother is saying he did. Or she did, at least. Which raises a whole new set of questions about what was really going on here. When the only voices in the discussion are McAlarney and his mother, it would seem to be to the University’s benefit to say something – however general – that might explain the situation. It would certainly ease the rumors and speculation propagated by members of the campus community, newspaper columnists and bloggers over the past few days.

Regardless of the punishment, Notre Dame owes those accused of breaking University rules a timely response. Federal law prohibits University comment on McAlarney’s specific case. That’s fine. But when the case is this high profile, the school could at least issue a statement explaining the timeframe for disciplinary decisions when the charges happen over break.

Let’s hear it.