Pubdate: Tue, 18 Feb 2003
Source: Emory Wheel, The (Emory U, GA Edu)
Copyright: 2003 The Emory Wheel
Author: Nathan Tobey, Koshlan Mayer-Blackwell


Recently, the University enacted a new policy subjecting all prospective 
employees to urine-based drug tests. The Emory Chapter of the American 
Civil Liberties Union feels that this policy is a mistake; it lacks any 
clear benefit while being costly, inefficient and arbitrary in its 
application. Worse yet, it is an unjustified intrusion into the personal 
lives of employees.

The concept of universal pre-employment drug testing assumes, without 
cause, that all applicants are guilty by placing the burden of proof on 
them to demonstrate their innocence. Regardless of the legality of such a 
requirement, the policy signals a clear disrespect for civil liberties. The 
extension of this principle would justify almost any intrusion into an 
employee's personal life. Should the University also conduct searches of 
all prospective employees' homes, where they might be hiding illicit drugs? 
Should it conduct psychological profiles of job applicants to determine 
criminal tendencies? When the principle of presumed innocence is belittled, 
we all become suspects.

The program, which applies only to incoming University staff and not to 
prospective faculty or students, is also potentially destructive to the 
employees' morale and sense of fairness, equality and community. Many 
consider the tests humiliating and invasive. These are not mere guesses: 
The Emory Employee Council conducted a volunteer poll of a number of 
employees and found that roughly 80 percent -- a disturbingly high 
percentage -- considered the tests "unacceptable."

Urinalysis tests costs roughly $35 per employee. Yet they are ineffective 
indicators for the drugs with the greatest impact on job performance. With 
the exception of marijuana, most drugs are no longer detectable through 
urinalysis after 24 to 48 hours.

By granting the faculty a "special privilege" of exemption from these 
tests, the University sets an explicit double standard of looking the other 
way when a college professor chooses to smoke marijuana, while condemning 
staff members for doing the same.

The high costs of this program require considerable justification, yet the 
University has failed to demonstrate a compelling need for the new policy. 
Del King of the Department of Human Resources has acknowledged that the 
administration has no evidence of a drug problem among the staff. Emory's 
only attempt to cite an impetus for the policy change is that many 
employees were using the Faculty-Staff Assistance Program, a counseling 
service that sometimes addresses drug abuse. Alice Miller, Vice President 
of Human Resources, has suggested that this may indicate a drug problem.

However, employees use FSAP services for many reasons aside from drug 
abuse, including help with bereavement, employer-employee relations, stress 
issues, depression and other mental health problems. Even when an employee 
does go to FSAP for a "drug problem," it doesn't necessarily indicate that 
person is using drugs; it could be to receive counseling about how to deal 
with a spouse or child who is using them. Most importantly, as FSAP's 
services are confidential, it is inappropriate and unethical to use such 
information in an attempt to identify wrongdoers or set policy. This 
standard of selective confidentiality undermines employee trust in the program.

How, then, does the University justify this policy? The main argument 
proposed is that Emory was one of the only top employers in the Atlanta 
area without a pre-employment testing policy, making it a potential haven 
for drug users afraid of testing by other employers.

This argument doesn't hold up, either. The drug testing industry concedes, 
and studies show, that most drug users abstain from drug use while in a job 
search. This argument also seems to forget that Emory is a university, not 
a corporation, and should be considered as such. A quick glance around the 
country shows that most of Emory's local and national peer institutions do 
not engage in universal pre-employment drug testing.

In any case, the University has not demonstrated that the existing tools of 
reference screening and criminal background checks are ineffective methods 
for selecting a competent work force. Nor have they considered the 
possibility that pre-employment drug testing may actually divert resources 
and attention from these more revealing measurements. Emory's goals would 
be better served by directing resources to raising staff wages, thus 
encouraging productivity by making jobs more valuable to current employees 
while attracting higher-quality applicants.

Oddly, Emory does not currently employ a for-cause employee testing policy. 
It is perplexing that Emory would not test an employee who showed overt 
signs of drug use, choosing instead to reserve the drug test for people the 
University has no reason to suspect.

Mainly in response to dissent from the Carter Center and Employee Council, 
the University Senate will be debating these issues next week and will 
consider suspending the testing policy while its consequences are reviewed. 
The EU-ACLU will be hosting a public forum this Thursday to give the Emory 
community an opportunity to debate and discuss this important topic.

We must strive to maintain the academy's esteemed tradition of critical 
inquiry, open discourse and dissent, rather than allow administrative 
heavy-handedness and corporate emulation to dictate University policy.

ACLU Student-Union President Nathan Tobey is a College senior from 
Watchung, N.J., and ACLU Vice President Koshlan Mayer-Blackwell is a 
College sophomore from Salt Lake City, Utah.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens