Students Punished In Drug Probe

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 2, 2006

St. John's College suspended eight students and two others withdrew last spring amid an investigation into drug use at the Annapolis campus.

School officials confirmed the disciplinary actions this week in response to postings on a newly launched Internet site, which alleges the students were accused of using cocaine. College administrators would not specify the drug, and they disavowed the Web site, which is called St. John's Forum and is designed to resemble the school's official site.

The school's actions were taken shortly before commencement at the close of the spring term. The college's Great Books curriculum immerses students in the foundations of law and order.

St. John's policy regards illegal drugs as "incompatible" with the academic program and requires students to sign a statement each year acknowledging that they will follow the school's standards of conduct. A student caught smoking marijuana can face a $200 fine, half payable in cash, half in community service, along with a warning that future transgressions could result in expulsion.

More serious incidents, such as those involving hard drugs or anything that intrudes on a student's learning, may be dealt with more severely, said Judith Seeger, the assistant dean, although she and Harty said they could not discuss the spring incident in detail for privacy reasons.

"We don't patrol the dorms, because we think it's important to protect our students' privacy," Seeger said. She said the college did not report the alleged drug use to the police. She voiced hope that the idled students will apply for readmission, which is their right.

In addition to the 10 students who withdrew or were suspended, three St. John's seniors who had completed their requirements for a degree before the drug allegations surfaced will not receive their diplomas until May.

A posting to the St. John's Forum site alleges that the college used manipulative tactics with the accused students, falsely claiming to have eyewitness testimony or warning that the school would "come down hard on them" unless they named others involved. The posting had been viewed at least 200 times as of Tuesday and had generated a handful of written replies, apparently written by students and alumni.

"This is the sort of behavior one would expect of, well, Stalin, or closer to home (for me) of rural southern sheriffs in the 1950s and '60s," wrote one respondent, who described himself as an alumnus of the college's Santa Fe, N.M., campus. "If this is true, I am highly offended, as a lawyer, as a United States citizen, and as an alumnus of the College."

Seeger said the allegations of pressure were "all false," and that the students were treated fairly, although she said privacy rules forbade her to set the story straight.

"This is an internal disciplinary matter," Harty said. "We're not going to discuss it."

Kirk Dedoes, a Web designer in New Mexico, said he had been approached by some students at the Santa Fe campus to create the site for their mostly anonymous comments, which focus on administrative actions against students and employees. Dedoes said he had no connection to the school, and he declined to identify any student contributing to the site.

"They just wanted to get some communication out and see if they could get something started to change things," Dedoes said.

Harty said the spring drug suspensions were common knowledge at the 479-student campus; the school held a series of meetings with students at the start of the academic year to discuss the actions and hear students' concerns.

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