Should Colleges Be Allowed to Enforce Mandatory Drug Tests?

Could the college admissions process one day involve filling out an application, writing an essay, filing financial aid paperwork...and submitting a urine sample for drug testing? While that may sound extreme, a technical college in central Missouri recently implemented mandatory drug testing for all students as a way to fulfill its stated mission. But what, Education Insider asks, is the fine line between helping students prepare for the future and invading their privacy?

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By Harrison Howe


For the Good of the Students or Simply a Bad Decision?

Drug tests in schools are nothing new. They have been administered in high schools and in some private colleges. In 1990, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) instituted a year-round drug testing program to, as the organization states, 'protect the health and safety of student-athletes' and ensure fair play practices.

But the mandatory drug testing introduced at Linn State Technical College, which says the requirement grew from its mission to 'prepare students for profitable employment and a life of learning', is the first of its kind in a public college and begs the question: 'Should colleges be allowed to enforce such a test?'

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) says no, and has filed a lawsuit against the college. The ACLU Blog of Rights website went as far as to say that Linn State 'violated the Fourth Amendment rights of its students'. The Fourth Amendment protects the right of the people against 'unreasonable searches and seizures' and against unwarranted searches without 'probable cause'.

Linn State maintains that it has instituted the policy due to the nature of many of its programs. School officials cite student safety as one of the main reasons for the mandatory testing; for instance, students enrolled in training programs that involve the operation of heavy equipment are prime candidates for testing. The school also says that the drug testing will help to prepare these students for what they likely face after graduation: required drug testing by employers.

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What Rights Do Students Have On Campus?

The word 'unconstitutional' has been used when describing Linn State's new testing, and in many ways one can see why. It's not hard to imagine that at least some of the students might feel as if they are being treated like criminals. However you look at it, it seems that mandatory drug testing for all college students is a bit extreme, most notably when there is a lack of reported drug use or suspicion of drug activity. Jason Williamson, an ACLU staff attorney, stated that 'nothing like it has ever been sanctioned by the courts.'

So is Linn State's drug testing 'unreasonable' and without 'probable cause'? It would seem so, at least as defined by the Fourth Amendment. Is there another way the college could approach the issue? Possibly. Maybe it could implement a voluntary test, or offer classes that educate students about the dangers of drug use and that outline drug testing procedures for employment purposes.

Surely many colleges share Linn State's mission to 'prepare students for profitable employment'. Does that mean other institutions should adopt mandatory drug testing? Unless the courts one day decide in favor of that possibility, one would have to say that for now it's understandable that such a move could be viewed as unconstitutional, and that colleges seeking to govern such a policy should expect to come under legal fire.

While some may feel that mandatory drug testing in colleges violates the Fourth Amendment, do college applications asking about sexual identity also invade a student's privacy?

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