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ND looks to move past ordinance

Maddie Hanna | Monday, September 24, 2007

When the South Bend Common Council votes tonight on an ordinance intended to curtail raucous student parties in neighborhoods near Notre Dame, it will make a statement about the historically complex relationship between the University and the city.

University leaders have said they do not think an ordinance requiring students to pre-register off-campus parties is the best way to solve a problem they acknowledge exists.

Since he introduced the ordinance in July, Council member Buddy Kirsits has called for the University administration to “step up to the plate” to address actions of its students off campus.

But University leaders have said the present situation is a chance to collaborate with students and city officials.

“I believe there’s currently an opportunity for us to work constructively with the local community and the city to improve the legitimate concerns that people have – and they are legitimate,” University President Father John Jenkins told The Observer. “I think there are instances where Notre Dame students have not behaved as they should, and people feel that the quality of their life has been not as good because of that. …

“I believe we can find a way to work constructively on it without ordinances.”

In its earlier form, the proposed ordinance required houses with two or more unrelated residents to apply for a permit 10 days in advance before hosting a party with 25 or more guests with access to alcohol. Now, the Council is considering a modified version that would create a coalition of leaders from the city and local colleges, including Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s.

While the current version of the ordinance still contains rules for party registration, they would not be implemented unless the Council voted to do so in the future – an action that city officials say could be necessary if students continue to host too-rowdy parties off campus.

It would not be the first time the behavior of Notre Dame students off campus spurred action by South Bend residents and officials.”

‘Occasional crises’

“You know, universities are not quiet places,” said Father Theodore Hesburgh, who served as University president for 35 years. “Every so often, students get carried away, generally due to too much drinking. And that causes a crisis when it happens.”

Hesburgh oversaw the University through occasional but repeated complaints from South Bend residents frustrated with their unruly student neighbors – like in 1986, when 65 people from the area south of campus signed a petition protesting off-campus parties.

“On numerous occasions the South Bend Police Department has been called to disperse large and sometimes unruly crowds which have assembled for the sole purpose of getting drunk,” the petition read. “The University does not allow this kind of behavior on campus, why should it allow it in our neighborhood?”

These “occasional crises,” Hesburgh said, “come and go, but they’re not important.”

“You’ve got to remember, we have been here since 1841,” he said. “That’s a long time. And as South Bend has grown over the years, we’ve grown with it. That’s been a concurrent growth, but it’s not unrelated. … South Bend, if you took Notre Dame out of the picture, you wouldn’t know much about it.”

The Notre Dame and South Bend communities necessarily overlap, former University president Father Edward Malloy said.

“Any university, we can’t live in isolation,” said Malloy, who served as president for 18 years. “We’re not a fortress on a mountaintop. It’s not a castle where you can pull the moats up. The quality of life on campus is going to always be impacted by the quality of life of the surrounding neighborhoods. … It’s self-evidently clear.”

Malloy noted that tensions between students and local residents are widespread in college towns.

“These issues are not peculiar to Notre Dame,” he said. “If you went down to Bloomington, if you go to Evanston – just name all the places where there are campuses with large numbers of undergraduate students – and you’re going to find this is going to be an ongoing debate.”

The debate continues through tonight’s vote – and it’s largely because Council members say student parties have grown louder and messier in recent years.

Associate Vice President for Residence Life Bill Kirk said the University has “consistently enforced” Notre Dame’s student handbook, duLac, when violations happen off campus.

“What has changed is the frequency of it,” he said.

But while Residence Life has received “more reports” of incidents involving students off campus during the past few years, “there is some behavior that may not amount to a violation of the law,” Kirk said.

Those problems, he said, are “difficult for us to address if no police action” was taken.

Though Notre Dame asks its students to be good neighbors off campus, Jenkins said, the University is limited in its control.

“There are expectations for students’ behavior, it’s pretty clear. I don’t think any of our students are unsure about that,” Jenkins said. “We cannot, obviously, police their behavior 24 hours a day, wherever they go. But we can work with others in a cooperative effort to address this situation, and I’m optimistic this is an opportunity to do so.”

A relationship in progress

Council members said they were also optimistic about the chance to develop a closer relationship with Notre Dame. But they said the city needs continued input from University administrators.

“Obviously, when people at the level of [Vice President for Student Affairs] Father [Mark] Poorman and [Vice President and General Counsel] Carol Kaesebier are involved … I think that indicates a positive and proactive movement toward the end,” said Council member Tim Rouse, who co-sponsored the ordinance. “I think with any organization, there’s always room for increased communications.”

Council members questioned the University’s oversight of its off-campus students two years ago, when the city amended its disorderly house ordinance to crack down on noise violations. The measure resulted in six student evictions.

In February 2006, when student government representatives asked Common Council members to rethink their changes to the disorderly house ordinance – which the city had passed during the summer, while few students were in South Bend – Rouse praised then-student body president Dave Baron for his presentation.

But he criticized the University’s handling of the situation, citing “reluctance from the [Notre Dame] administration to assume its responsibility both in the area of students and the neighborhood.”

Last week, Council member Al “Buddy” Kirsits, the other sponsor of the current ordinance, said Notre Dame administrators have taken a more active role in the debate.

“I’ve seen the University step forward more than they have before,” Kirsits said at the Common Council meeting last Monday. “[In past years], they would say if it’s off campus, it’s not our problem.”

Like Rouse and Kirsits, Council member Ann Puzzello spoke to a “greater level of dialogue” between the Council and the University.

But as a resident of the neighborhood just south of campus, she said she experiences problems caused by “drunken students” on a regular basis.

“I wish that [University administrators] understood the situation much better than they do,” she said. ” … It’s important to us that Notre Dame, if they’re going to work with students concerning problems, that we have some idea what they’re doing, that it’s useful and helpful – because in the past it just hasn’t seemed helpful.”

Karen Langley contributed to this report.