Should universities be parents?

By | 17th April 2018

UK student mobilization in 1968-69 was often around domestic issues rather than revolution and opposition to the Vietnam War. It focussed on the concept of in loco parentis, that university authorities had legal duties, and associated powers, to act as parents in relation to students…The treatment of students as children had been increasingly problematic since the end of World War II…Many of us thought change was not happening fast enough.

Universities mostly stepped back and focussed on matters that were clearly either academic cheating or ‘offences against communal living’ like excessive noise or verbal abuse of staff.  Student health services were discouraged from reporting addiction or mental health problems to university authorities without the student’s consent. Faculty were told not to disclose information to parents. Criminal matters like drug dealing or sexual assault were referred to the police rather than dealt with internally.

It is, then, strange to witness the increasing pressure for UK universities to resume a parental role – and the enthusiasm with which students are embracing this. I find myself profoundly uncomfortable with the idea that universities should accept an open-ended responsibility for student mental health, for policing criminal activity, or for managing student self-care…

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