WA-08: Is DelBene hiding her seat on the board of drug-friendly Reed College?

The sordid details are crystallizing from this weekend’s apparent attempt by a group of male Central Washington University students to pull off a drug-assisted mass “date rape” at a home in Roslyn, Wash, a small town on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains only a two-hour drive from Bellevue, Wash.

Although CWU has indicated it will take decisive action against those involved, for many parents of college and pre-college kids, certain questions resist the easy resolution of selective expulsions. A larger question will persist. Did an atmosphere of tolerance regarding drug use – explicit or implied – contribute to the willingness of dozens of young women to drink whatever was being passed around?

More to the point, should colleges be held responsible for failing to enforce the law on campus, or, in extreme cases, knowingly allowing a culture of experimentation to thrive in which abuses like this weekend’s depravity can easily take place?

Those questions could become sticky ones for Suzan DelBene, the Democratic candidate in Washington’s eighth congressional district, made more troublesome because of a curious omission from her campaign website regarding a current position she holds on the board of trustees at Oregon’s Reed College. (For the record, the unofficial motto of Reed is “Communism, atheism, free love.” No kidding. They sell the tee-shirts in the college bookstore.)

Membership on the board of trustees of an academically prestigious private college is a plume in one’s cap, particularly in a district that cares a great deal about higher education.

Membership on the board of trustees of a college that has a notorious reputation for harboring – some would say cultivating – in the student body a culture of experimentation with mind-altering substances, is not a feather in one’s bonnet when marching toward Election Day.

DelBene has been seated on the board of trustees of Reed College since 2001, an accomplishment she has been very proud to list in her biography pages while a Microsoft vice president, and as a member of the board of directors of Electro Rent as recently as last year.

Why then does this laudable credential not appear on DelBene’s campaign bio or the entry for her in Wikipedia? Perhaps because during DelBene’s tenure on the board, Reed College’s comfy reputation as a playground for chemical experimentation began to clash with the harsh realities of a pair of heroin overdoses and a challenge from Oregon’s U.S. District Attorney to shape up, or else.

In April 2008, 18-year-old freshman Alex Lluch died in his dorm room from an overdose of heroin. Despite the active warning call from the event, Reed’s springtime celebration of free expression and drug use – Renn Fayre – was not greeted with so much as one wet blanket from the school’s administration. In fact, the student newspaper was still tutoring readers on their choices for chemical expansion, as reprinted in an eye-opening editorial/exposé in the Willamette Week.

“Renn Fayre is extremely intense, and even experienced psychonauts can (and will) flip out,” the paper wrote. “Most of you won’t be doing a single drug, will you? Nope, you’re going for double or nothing and betting on drug cocktails.”

Then, when another Reed student – Samuel Tepper, a 22-year-old senior – died from a lethal dose of heroin in March of this year, federal authorities were unwilling to leave the college to deal with the matter on its own. Under the implied threat that the college could face criminal or civil penalties under “crack house” laws, Reed’s president Colin Diver sent an email to students, telling them to cool it for this year’s Renn Fayre.

“The well-being of the college depends on how everyone behaves next weekend and beyond,” Diver wrote to the Reed student body. “So does the future of Renn Fayre.”

The omission of DelBene’s membership on the Reed College board appears at least not to be a matter of “oops, I forgot,” and it is certainly worthy of a question about what DelBene’s involvement has been when the board has discussed drug policy. As a congresswoman, DelBene would have a vote on setting drug policy for more than just the 1,300 young adults, but for millions of Americans.

Does DelBene support what some claim is Reed’s de facto tolerance policy – the practice of technically complying with laws regarding reporting of drug use and paraphernalia by having college employees tactically look the other way to avoid finding such actionable items? If so, does she see two dead heroin users (Diver admits heroin is unhealthy and its use should be discouraged) as unfortunate, but acceptable, casualties in the pursuit of chemical enlightenment from LSD, MDMA, mescaline and other psychotropic drugs? Or did DelBene fight vigorously for changes to the policy, challenging her fellow board members and alumni openly and vociferously?

DelBene should tell the voters of the Eighth District more about her involvement on the board of this controversial and enigmatic Northwest college, preferably in a debate setting where her positions on issues of drug policy can be discussed in more detail.

Update: Moe Lane had something more to say about Colin Diver and the Reed College Student Handbook’s advice on which drugs underclassmen should make a part of their collegiate experience.


[Cross-posted by author from Red County.]