May 9, 2008

Steve Padilla

All The Right Moves

Everyone concedes that youth and young adulthood are times of self-discovery. These years sometimes include the wild, crazy, and fun-loving adventures of our high school and college age years. We celebrate them, and they are cherished parts of American culture. They are supposed to grow our character and spirit at a time when our intellect is challenged and our skills are sharpened. These years are meant to be our “coming of age.” But the line between healthy growing experiences and self-destruction can be crossed with sobering and deadly consequences. When it is, strong action to correct it is appropriate and justified.

When anyone drinks or uses drugs to excess, injury or death and brings the resulting heartaches upon others it is heartbreaking. But when our college age youth – our future - contribute cynically to this chain of misery from within a place intended to grow the human spirit, it is nothing short of tragic. When the collegial atmosphere of academic exploration and discovery drifts from a place of “an open exchange of ideas” to one of an open exchange of deadly and illegal narcotics, and other substances, that line has been crossed.

The recent arrests of students involved in drug sales at SDSU are sad and stunning. The distinguished flagship of the CSU system here in San Diego has not merited this sad stain but has dealt with it with distinction. However, what disturbs me most are the statements by some, the second-guessing and criticism of the University, its law enforcement and administration for collaborating with federal authorities. Those who protest this are missing the mark.

The free exchange of ideas and the exploration of issues for personal and social growth are critical in an academic setting. But, they must occur in an environment appropriate and safe to do so. The center of academic adult learning should not be a center for the support of suffering, addiction, violence and even death. Such academic exchanges and exploration should not be confused with or construed to facilitate criminal conduct which leads to the exploitation and suffering of others for financial gain. The recent situation at SDSU was not simply “a college thing”, a “phase” or something to chalk up to the indiscretion of college age youth. It was criminal. Period.

The head of the SDSU faculty union expressed “dismay” at the level of drug use and related activity on campus, but was worried that the presence of federal investigators within campus circles to penetrate a drug dealing enterprise might set “a bad precedent.” What? A bad precedent would be to quietly sweep such a problem under the rug for worry of the university’s reputation as some institutions may have chosen to do. Not to mention how such handling would display stunning disrespect for the students, parents and families whose hard work and sacrifice may have allowed a loved one to become a university student in the first place. A bad precedent is the distribution of drugs to high school students by those in a university. Bad precedents are studies such as one cited from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University indicating the number of fulltime college students who use or abuse drugs and alcohol on a monthly basis on the rise. Then there are the Harvard University School of Public Health studies which show steady increases in drug and alcohol abuse among college students and rises in alcohol and drug related unintended injuries and deaths.

President Weber and the SDSU administration made the right call. They dealt honestly and professionally with a painful situation and sought neither to exaggerate nor to minimize the extent of the problem. They collaborated professionally with the appropriate authorities and in doing so, helped to safeguard the mission of SDSU here in our community.

Padilla served as Chula Vista Mayor from 2002-06 and on the California Coastal Commission from 2005-07. He is President/CEO of Aquarius Group, Inc. and can be contacted at:

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