Mandatory privacy invasion
Imagine for a moment that it’s your first day of college. You’ve finally managed to get all your boxes and bags up to your fourth-floor suite and are joyfully unpacking and anticipating all the amazing experiences you’ll have in there over the course of the year.
Then your RA knocks on your door with a cup and reminds you that before you finish, you have to head downstairs for your mandatory drug test.
While this may seem incomprehensible at a school like Wash. U., barely 100 miles southwest of here, at Linn State Technical College, this is reality. This year, Linn State has enacted a program requiring all members of its incoming classes to be regularly tested for a variety of drugs. No exceptions.
Linn State is a two-year technical college. As such, the use of high-risk machinery is extremely common upon campus. The school believes that because many of their students are utilizing these dangerous tools on a regular basis, and will be entering fields of work where drug testing will be a regular occurrence, this program seems to make sense. That is, until you realize that, according to linnstate.edu, they also have students majoring in English, mathematics, computer programming and a variety of other programs, none of which involves power tools or other hazardous materials.
The right to privacy is something that has been guaranteed since almost the founding of the United States. While it may make sense to test those students who are often in potentially unsafe situations, to require it for students in very different situations seems not only unreasonable, but also unconstitutional.
The fourth amendment protects all citizens of the United States from unreasonable search or seizure, and according to the Supreme Court case Treasury Employees v. Von Raab, requiring someone to produce a urine sample (from employees, in this specific case) constituted a search under the same amendment. The screening also violates an expected right to privacy, something that most value and take care to protect.
And not only do the students have to offer up a urine sample in order to remain enrolled at Linn State, but they are also required to pay for each test, which costs approximately $50. In a time when many students are already struggling to pay for tuition and may remain in debt for years to come, the added cost of drug tests over the course of the year quickly adds up.
Here at Wash. U., we have students and staff participating in a variety of types of research. Some may involve risky procedures and machinery, as well as the participation of large groups of people. It would not be unreasonable to test someone before they perform surgery, as Wash. U.-affiliated hospitals do. It would not be unreasonable to want to save someone from allowing a potentially drug-addled person to cut into his or her body or perform tests on them. But it is unreasonable to require an English major to offer up a urine sample in order to enter their discussion on Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Drug screening may be needed in certain situations; there is no denying that. And wanting to look out for the safety of students and staff is nothing new. Sometimes, infringing on a person’s rights may be necessary for the safety of the larger community.