David Borden, Executive Director, [email protected]
It was a minor news item this week, almost gossip level. Jenna Bush, one of George W.'s daughters, was busted for underage drinking during her freshman year at the University of Texas at Austin, Secret Service agents in tow.
My first reaction was excitement: We've finally found the perfect poster child for our Higher Education Act Reform Campaign (http://www.raiseyourvoice.com). Jenna Bush has been convicted of a criminal offense, is going to lose financial aid and have to leave college. Clearly an unjust punishment for the "youthful irresponsibility" that seems to run in the Bush family, the perfect case to hold up to help us finally repeal this bad law once and for all. The President's daughter!
Then I remembered that the HEA drug provision only applies to drug offenses, not to any other criminal convictions, major or minor. Oh well, false alarm.
But wait! Alcohol is a drug by any legitimate standard, and it's an illegal drug when consumed under the age of 21, at least without parental supervision. Furthermore, alcohol is *the* major drug problem on campuses. Obviously any drug law is going to apply to underage alcohol use as stringently as it applies to other drug offenses, if not more so.
Oops! Another false alarm -- it turns out the HEA drug provision only applies to some drugs, not alcohol. Lucky for Jenna, but we'll just have to keep looking.
Then I remembered that it wouldn't have mattered if Jenna had been caught with marijuana or ecstasy or even heroin or methamphetamine or crack. Jenna is rich. Only the poor and working and some middle class people are eligible for financial aid and hence for this second punishment for drug law violations. Jenna Bush doesn't receive government subsidies for education, so the HEA drug provision may as well not exist for her at all.
Actually, now that I think about it, it's likely that Jenna Bush does receive a government education subsidy -- she goes to a state-funded school. Does the young Ms. Bush pay in-state tuition rates to attend the University of Texas at Austin? Probably. Taxpayer dollars therefore do subsidize the education of Jenna Bush in that way, if this is true. Maybe students at state schools who are convicted of illegal alcohol offenses should have to pay out-of-state tuition rates. And maybe rich kids like Jenna should be prohibited from accepting the difference in tuition rates from their families, but instead have to work to earn it and take time off or drop out if they can't.
Obviously I don't think that this is what should be done on our campuses. But it would be consistent with the financial aid law in place for students with controlled substance violations today whose families are not too wealthy for them to receive financial aid for college at all. Without such penalties for rich alcohol violators, the law cracking down on less wealthy, other-drug offenders is hypocritical and unfair.
Not that such things matter to the US Congress, of course, but they do to a lot of people. Maybe Jenna Bush is a good poster child for our campaign after all.