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UI collected more than $140K in dorm fines last year

BY ASMAA ELKEURTI | SEPTEMBER 02, 2011 7:20 AM

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Rolling a doobie as Steely Dan’s “Deacon Blues” played in the background is how University of Iowa sophomore Daniel Willams spent the last moments before his arrest.

When he opened his door to find out why his friend had been gone so long, Williams found a parade of police officers ready with handcuffs. He was charged with possession of marijuana and found himself facing a $700 fine from University of Iowa Housing & Dining.

“I wasn’t hurting anybody, and I wasn’t stealing from anybody,” Wiliams said. “I’m an Honors student. I don’t get bad grades. I’m competent enough to make good decisions about my life. I just don’t think I was doing anything wrong.”

The number of students fined for drug use in the dorms has increased from 26 two years ago to 104 in the last academic year. Factor in 311 alcohol violations and the Housing Department collected more than $147,000 in fines from students last year.

The Daily Iowan obtained that data through an open-records request. The university charged the paper $35 to compile the information.

Prior to 2009, students were not fined for drug possession in university dorms, and drug incidents were handled by law enforcement. Housing officials decided to include drugs in order to be consistent with the alcohol policies in UI dorms, said Greg Thompson, the manager of Residence Life. Students involved in incidents in which illicit drugs or alcohol are involved can receive a fine of anywhere between $200 and $700. Fees for educational sessions are included in the fine.

“We want to create an environment that’s conducive to studying, living, and pursuing goals,” Thompson said.

If any illegal substance is found, RAs are required to file an incident report, the student is called in for a meeting, and the hall coordinator decides what action will be taken in response to the violation.

Thompson said officials try to maintain fines to similar fees off campus.

“If our policies don’t match types of outcomes they can get off campus, they’re more likely to engage in behavior outside residence halls,” Thompson said. “We try to stay as consistent with the off-campus piece as possible.”

Currently, first-time marijuana offenders are charged between $300 and $1,000 by the state, and the penalties can also include jail time.

And Williams was not alone when he was fined. Students who are in residence-hall rooms where contraband is found can also be subjected to a fine and disciplinary action.

“We implemented a fine for that violation because we found many students claiming that they were not drinking, that they were simply there hanging out,” Thompson said. “Students used it as a way to avoid other fines.”

Some students said they feel the fines have ulterior purposes.

“I got a $300 fine just for Dan being in the room with me,” said Alberto Miller, a UI sophomore studying bioinformatics. “Technically, [fines] are supposed to prevent abuse of drugs or alcohol, but I think they’re just money-getters.”

Fines taken from possession of illicit substances go towards educational sessions through Health Iowa and late-night residence-hall activities.

“We intentionally schedule these programs Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights so students can do those instead of going out and partying,” Thompson said.


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