News tip: proposed database to track students

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Please cover the current plight of students in Boston fighting a proposed ordinance in Boston City Council that would create a database for police sharing to track college and university students living off campus. The argued intention is to apply on-campus policies and standards to off-campus living. At Thursday’s hearing on the matter, Committee Chair Maureen Feeney told students that this is aimed to “protect you from yourselves.”

Though the University Accountability Ordinance (Docket #1243) wouldn’t directly implicate Villanova, it’s necessary for students across the country to hear about issues of off-campus living decisions, privacy rights, and overall marginalization of students within their communities.

The legislation currently defines student as “any person who is enrolled in more than half the minimum credits necessary for full-time status, as defined by the college or university at which the Student is enrolled.” Not only does this mean all full-time and part-time undergrads, but as defined, it includes graduate students, medical and dental students, and adults enrolled in executive-education programs.

Below are references and links to several of these topics. I have also copy-pasted the text of my testimony at Boston City Council’s hearing.

If I can help in any way or if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to be in touch.

Thanks for your time and attention,

Sean CarlsonBoston University

(617) [email protected]

The Boston Globe (“Students protest address registry,” 09/24)

The Daily Free Press (“Students testify against having to give addresses,” 09/24)

The Daily Free Press (“Off-campus student database violates rights,” 09/22)

The Associated Press (“Northeastern U. told to exercise greater control over students,” 09/21)

Northeastern News (“Proposed ordinance could publicize off-campus info,” 09/15)

The Daily Free Press (“City council looks at reining in off-campus students,” 09/10)

The Daily Free Press (“STAFF EDITORIAL: City Criminalizes Students,” 09/10)

The Boston Globe (“Ordinance aims to aid police in keeping track of off-campus students,” 09/08)

STATEMENTS BEFORE CITY COUNCIL (23 Sept. 2004)Sean Carlson, Boston University

Good afternoon.

City council president, councilors, university representatives, members of the press, Boston police officers, students, and residents (permanent and temporary):

My name is Sean Carlson (for the record, spelled S-E-A-N C-A-R-L-S-O-N). I am a senior at Boston University studying communication and comparative politics, particularly interested in conflict resolution. I have lived just outside Boston for 17 years of my life and currently reside in on-campus housing, but stayed in Allston previously. I have taught college-prep courses at Northeastern and have studied Northern Ireland’s community relations at Boston College. I can be reached for further discussion or comment at justsean (J-U-S-T-S-E-A-N) @

I’d like to begin with a thought:When you have zero tolerance on campus and zero tolerance off campus, well, as a student in today’s world, that’s rather difficult to tolerate.

Despite City Council’s best intentions, this ordinance mischaracterizes and undermines the many student residents throughout Boston who behave as appropriate and conscientious members of their respective communities, free from on-campus housing policies but still obeying applicable local, state, and federal laws.

But from another perspective, this ordinance has potential to become a logistical nightmare. From inside the walls of City Hall, it’s difficult for the City Council to operationalize and understand the inconsistencies that dictate off-campus and student life.

The fundamental issue in terms of executing the proposal arises from the sense of fluidity that defines Boston’s off-campus living. The City Council may not realize that with graduations in January, May, and September at BU and other dates at other schools, opportunities to study abroad each semester, and summer relocations, many students change their residences frequently. Even though leases may be set on a calendar, the ever-malleable world of subletting adds another dimension of complexity to the equation.

With the proposal requiring universities to update the system biannually, there exists a high probability that students will not actually reside in the residences attributed to them in the police database. If the information listed is wrong, what safeguards will be in place to prevent a good student resident from being unfairly and incorrectly identified as bad?

Will hard-working, full-time undergraduates be the only victims of this policy, or will it differentiate between the many overlapping student identities: full-time, part-time, summer, international, exchange, consortium, and so on? Will accomplished high school students living at home but enrolled in college courses and adults pursuing professional and executive programs be exempt? If so, why? How about the 30-year-old at Harvard Business School in Allston or the 22-year-old seminarian at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton? UMass-Boston’s commuters? Fisher College? New England College of Pharmacology? Students who live in Boston but go to school in Cambridge, Newton, Brookline? Students from those communities who go to school here in Boston?

As for the Super Bowl celebratory riots, please do not manipulate a devastatingly circumstantial situation that stole the life of a member of my graduating high school class at St. John’s Prep in Danvers. Jamie was not a Boston student and he was struck by another non-student who was allegedly under the influence of alcohol. Creating a database to track Patriots fans – or, during this pennant race, those who attend Red Sox games – as the variable would be as effective as tracking students.

Rather than approving this blanket ordinance, please engage the whole community, students included, and give us reasons to work together in our common interests to change the systemic issues:

* housing costs overbearing for students and non-students alike * landlords shirking responsibilities * roads and sidewalks unpaved and crumbling * the T congested and grossly, offensively inefficient * streets littered and parks unkempt * the homeless unsheltered

These are the real problems that face our neighbors and neighborhoods, and they most greatly impact the qualities of all our lives.

On all these grounds, I ask you, please reconsider the University Accountability Ordinance (Docket #1243).

Thank you.