The issue of noisy student partying at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. has spilled onto the pages of the New York Times in the form of a letter to the high-profile columnist “The Ethicist.”
Randy Cohen, who tackles ethical dilemmas ranging from wedding present re-gifting to kidney donation etiquette, was sent a letter by Robert May regarding the university town’s late-night parties.
According to the letter, an unnamed former Kingston city councilor tries to combat the “scourge” of rowdy students by posting photographs of them on the Internet.
“Because he takes his photographs in public places and does not identify anyone by name, he is not breaking any laws,” writes May. “However, there is much discussion on campus about the ethics of his actions. Thoughts?”
In response, Cohen says he finds it ethically troubling that the pictures were posted by a former city councilor, which hints at an official response to the rambunctious parties. Even if the person were not a former official, he says the choice to make the photos public was still unwise.
“In our youth, we all did things at parties that we would not want published in the newspaper. (If you didn’t, the parties you attended were too tepid.),” writes Cohen. He does, however, say “noise complaints should be taken seriously; loud parties can heighten tensions between town and gown.”
He suggests the former councilor/photographer take other, nonpunitive, measures to combat any disruptive partying, including encouraging the university to provide venues where loud, boisterous students will not bother neighbours.
Last week Queen’s University cancelled its popular fall homecoming celebrations for two years as the unofficial festivities grew progressively more out of control. In 2005, a car was rolled and burned. This year, nearly 140 people were arrested, almost 700 others received liquor-related fines and 23 severely intoxicated people needed to be taken to hospital.
Cohen ends his article with some advice for the university and its administration.
“Solid advanced planning can be more successful . . . than an irate reaction from a camera-happy quasi official on a Saturday night.”