Friday, March 18, 2011

OD's vs. budget student housing at Berkeley

Nanette Asimov has a thoughtful feature in today's SF Chron about the parlous state of Berkeley student co-op housing. The co-op buildings, which are much cheaper than dorms, have reputed drug problems. Now, Asimov writes, the parents of a resident who suffered a brain-damaging overdose are suing the Berkeley Student Cooperative for real money. And costs for all residents have already risen because of drug-related building closures.

As a matter of straight premises liability, the parents have a point. But should we assume conventional dormitories are better, or should we wonder what's wrong with the university community as a whole?

The story says what happened to that boy is, it was "hours" before anyone called the paramedics. Maybe in a dorm he would have consumed the drugs furtively instead of openly. But if he had been in the same state in a dorm, how do we know someone there would have cared enough to call for help any sooner?

Maybe dormitories now are better proctored than the ones I remember. In ours -- OK, in the 1980s, a long time ago -- we came home at night and walked out our doors in the morning, or we didn't. It was up to us.

Maybe it's different now. Got to wonder, though.

Seems like the lesson here should be that we all ultimately depend on our friends and neighbors, so the morality of a university community should involve people looking after each other. It does happen that friends don't let friends do drugs, or anyhow not to excess -- but that's a message likely to be accepted more readily if it's just one aspect of a university culture that makes clear "community" isn't a platitude, it's a matter of mutual life-saving.

Meanwhile, the price of being a UC student rises higher.

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