Economics and Hampden-Sydney Drug Policy

     Perhaps one of the most distinguishing characteristics of Hampden-Sydney College, right behind the fact that it’s all male, is a culture of self governance and accountability exemplified by the honor code.  Hampden-Sydney prides itself on a strong Honor Code that is internally enforced and promotes a culture of self accountability and self governance. Our honor code system is administered, enforced and adjudicated by students. The legal relationship we have with each other at Hampden-Sydney is truly special and is something to we should be no less than extremely be proud of.  However, our self governing culture is being tested via conflict over a new drug policy. 
    Last week, Hampden-Sydney students gathered on the Venable laws to protest the administrations overstep concerning the implementation of a draft drug policy. A policy that includes random mandatory drug testing for drug offenders at their expense is not something all students are comfortable supporting, especially when it’s coupled with punishments that don’t involve a trial or capacity to appeal a disciplinary decision and was proposed in a questionable manner.  Recent conversations about drug related deaths has raised questions about where Students’ personal responsibility ends and where institutional responsibility begins; ultimately, this conversation has lead us to question whether or not random drug testing is congruent with the kind of self-governing Hampden-Sydney brand we want to protect. Understandably, most students do not want to be subject to random drug testing while the administration does not want students using drugs.
     In its current draft form, the drug policy proposal would subject students found guilty of using illegal substances (probably including those who seek help from a drug counselor since they have admitted to using drugs) to random drug testing, at his own expense, for an indeterminate amount of time. This proposal is certainly not delusional; in fact, random drug testing appears to have its merits. Certainly if I am drug user, and I know that the college can test me at any time, I certainly have a marginally higher incentive to resist drug use. While this policy might punish drug users more harshly, it does not encourage a cultural change towards lower drug abuse; instead it encourages students to be more discrete about drug abuse to avoid being caught the first time. Furthermore, it would reduce the incentive for other student’s to inform authorities of their friend’s substance abuse since the penalties are so much higher. The policy would make it harder to be your brother’s keeper. Thus, I do not think it is an effective solution to the drug problem. If the current proposal were enacted, a student using drugs would have a marginally lower incentive to seek out help from an on campus substance abuse program since by doing so, he would label himself as a drug user and be subjected to random testing, (along with possible expulsion from the college without trial or appeal) for making just one mistake- getting caught using drugs one additional time. Under the current proposal, any student seeking substance abuse help would walk in knowing that they have in effect committed to quitting drugs cold-turkey or face expulsion. Ultimately, random drug testing for all drug offenders would raise the costs of seeking help for a drug abuse problem and for helping friends with drug abuse problems, which will only entrench the culture of permissibility for drug abuse.
     We can preserve the self governing culture and personal accountability aspects of Hampden-Sydney student life while simultaneously encouraging a cultural change away from drug abuse by enacting a drug policy 1-that offers drastically different punishments for those caught abusing drugs and those caught abusing drugs who are seeking help for substance abuse, and 2- asks those who are seeking help for substance abuse to voluntarily enroll themselves in random drug testing as part of the substance abuse program. Under this policy, students with legitimate substance abuse problems would be incentivized to seek out help for their problems since doing so would  grantee them statutory protection from harsher punishments. At the same time, those serious about getting help for a substance abuse problem could reap the benefits of random drug testing by voluntarily signing up for it as part of the substance abuse program. This policy would align the incentives of administration and the students, discourage substance abuse, and protect students from mandatory random drug testing, while also helping the student justice system distinguish between those who are taking responsibility for substance abuse from those who are not.
     Unlike the proposed policy, not only would this policy produce the intended result and do it in a manner congruent with our campus culture, but also its structure ensures compliance because while the policy punishes bad behavior, it rewards good behavior.  Right now, we choose to follow the College’s rules because the excludable benefits of being part of the Hampden-Sydney community are higher than the costs. Constantly raising the costs of being part of the community, via more and more rules, decreases our ‘ compliance surplus’ or the difference between the cost and the benefit of following rules. If the administration were to pass tougher and tougher rules this effectively reduces our compliance surplus, and simultaneously lowers student’s opportunity cost of breaking the rules. Thus, in order to ensure compliance, when we raise the costs (increase the rules) we must also increase the excludable benefits of being a Hampden-Sydney student in order to ensure that our compliance surplus doesn’t decrease. This policy effectively increases compliance surplus by offering a benefit: holding those who voluntarily seek out substance abuse help to a lower punishment standard.  
     As we negotiate a new drug policy we need to keep in mind that a successful policy will align incentives, preserve the current level of rule compliance surplus, and not sacrifice our institutional culture. A drug policy that rewards students for seeking out help for substance abuse and giving them the option to voluntarily enroll themselves in a random drug testing program as part of a substance abuse program preserves the Hampden-Sydney  “come as boys, leave as men” culture.