I’m sorry I didn’t get to this sooner, but one of UW-Whitewater Dean of Students Mary Beth Mackin’s remarks about drug busts on campus deserves a reply. She’s offered an argument for equality of treatment on and off campus. Her argument implies that she either misunderstands the underlying justification for equality arguments, or that she supports the Drug War no matter how Draconian in Whitewater, inner cities, or anywhere in America.
Her remarks came during an interview with Gilman Halsted of Wisconsin Public Radio. (See, UW Campuses Use Undercover Student Informants In Drug Busts: Students Caught Dealing Drugs Are Offered Option Of Wearing Wire In Exchange For Reduced Charges.)
In that interview with WPR, Dean Mackin offers the contention that because non-college students might be subjected to drug charges (even for small amounts of narcotics), it’s fair that college students should be, too:
She said that when students break drug laws on campus, they shouldn’t be treated differently just because they’re students.
“I think the important thing is this is not an anomaly to a college campus,” Mackin said. “It’s the same thing that happens to 19-year-old who has not come to college, who’s working somewhere out in society.”
There’s her equality argument. On campus, off campus, wherever: the same drug policies equally enforced.
Dean Mackin, however, can only make this equality argument ethically if she believes that the Drug War is a positive one for society.
That’s because the extension of equality depends on the conviction that what one extends is, in itself, positive. One can virtuously seek an extension of a good thing; the extension of suffering or harsh treatment to greater numbers in the name of equality is no virtue.
So extending the right to vote, freedom of speech and assembly, or marriage makes sense when one sees those as fundamental expressions of one’s humanity. Equality in these cases is an extension of positive goods.
By contrast, no one contends that equality of treatment would have justified the extension of Jim Crow laws, for example, from parts of America to the whole country. The unfairness of the laws trumps an argument from equality that they should have been extended to all fifty states.
To believe morally in the equal reach of the Drug War requires the belief that the Drug War is a social good.
Ms. Mackin may believe that, of course.
If she does, then she might tell those from the inner city, not just in Whitewater, that she’s committed to the equality of severe penalties and incarceration everywhere: Milwaukee, Chicago, Whitewater, wherever.
Dean Mackin might ask those many inner city residents, if she has the time, if they feel better about their treatment under the law now that she’s advocating equality of conditions on her rural campus.
I’d guess she’d not be met with a positive or thankful response.