Last August, many of my colleagues at the Carter
Center and I were shocked to learn of the new policy requiring drug
tests of all Emory nonfaculty job candidates. We knew that such
policies were rare in the not-for-profit sector, and we believed
it clashed sharply with the principles of fairness and respect for
rights that are the core of the center’s work around the globe.
We did not want our new colleagues subjected to a needless and humiliating
urine test, and we felt it was necessary to stand up for their rights.
Emory’s goals for the policy were well intentioned, seeking
to promote safety and a productive workplace. However, as we began
to investigate the issue more deeply, we discovered that pre-employment
drug testing has serious scientific, practical and policy defects.
We brought these findings to the attention of President Bill Chace,
and he has been responsive and has encouraged discussion of the
issue. We shaped our findings into a motion that was voted on and
adopted by the Employee Council. The motion has been forwarded to
the University Senate, where it is now under consideration.
The case against the new drug testing policy is straightforward
and grounded in research. In brief, we feel that pre-employment
drug testing has major defects and is not appropriate for Emory
First, Emory does not have a drug abuse problem among its staff.
The administration has acknowledged that the policy is not a response
to any observed drug problem, but merely an effort to prevent potential
problems. Given the University’s budget constraints, should
we spend thousands of dollars on potential problems, or Emory’s
Second, scientific research shows that pre-employment drug testing
does not create a safer or more secure workplace. An exhaustive
study by the National Academy of Sciences in 1993 found no evidence
that testing has a deterrent effect on drug use. The study also
found no evidence that drug use—other than alcohol—posed
any significant productivity or safety problems in the workplace.
Third, the new policy puts Emory well out of standard practice in
higher education. Among our peers such as Harvard, Duke, Stanford,
Cal-Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, University of Virginia and Vanderbilt,
none subject all of their staff to pre-employment drug testing.
In fact, we found only two universities in the United States that
test all staff, although many do test select positions (usually
safety-sensitive positions such as campus police, commercial drivers
and health/hospital staff). Even employees at Georgia’s public
universities cannot be tested unless their jobs specifically involve
safety-sensitive aspects, criteria that developed as a result of
court rulings. When the 1990 session of the Georgia Assembly attempted
to mandate drug tests for all new state employees, our colleagues
at the Georgia Association of Educators stood up for their rights.
Broad testing of new state employees was struck down as unconstitutional
by the federal court in Atlanta the very same year. Should Emory
staff have fewer rights than Tech or UGA employees?
Fourth, there are several other measures that would be better targeted
and more effective at increasing campus safety. For example, the
University does not currently have “for cause” drug
or alcohol screening. This means that a current employee showing
obvious signs of substance abuse on the job cannot be compelled
to undergo testing. Why would we want to drug test all job candidates—for
whom we have no cause for suspicion—when we can’t test
current employees with evident, serious problems?
Fifth, the policy offends personal dignity and will damage morale
and trust within the Emory community. Even conservative Supreme
Court Justice Antonin Scalia has stated that suspicionless urine
testing amounts to “an immolation of privacy and human dignity.”
Do we really want a urine test to be the first impression our new
colleagues have about Emory? What does such a policy tell new staff
about the University’s respect for their rights, dignity and
My colleagues and I feel these arguments constitute
a strong, practical base against the policy. We join many others
in the Emory community who have stated their opposition to the policy
including numerous students and staff, the Employee Council, editors
of The Wheel, the student chapter of the American Civil Liberties
Union, the president of the Student Government Association and the
President’s Commission on the Status of Women. In addition
to other issues they raise about the policy, many feel it is unfair
because new staff are compelled to surrender their rights and dignity,
while new faculty are exempt.
Now it is essential that faculty add their voices
to this discussion. At its core, the question of drug testing is
really a question about the mission and values of this University.
If Emory is dedicated to the pursuit of truth, how
can we implement a policy that is unsupported by research? If Emory
strives for fairness, how can we allow one segment of our community
to be stripped of its rights and dignities, while other segments
retain these rights and dignities? If Emory embraces democratic
values, how can we reconcile the policy with protections against
suspicionless search and the general American principle of “innocent
until proven guilty?”
Drug testing programs like Emory’s are rare in higher education
because they have been examined and rejected as ineffective and
inappropriate measures. In fact, the American Association of University
Professors studied the issue at length in 1994 and adopted a clear
position against such policies.
According to the AAUP report: “We see no reason to create
programs, policies and systems that combat substance abuse by sacrificing
the academy’s traditional commitments to self-governance,
due process and professional standards of competence… The
primary mission of colleges and universities is education, not law
enforcement… The subcommittee finds no valid purpose for universal
or random drug testing programs within the academic community [italics
added]. They constitute an excessive intrusion into the private
affairs of individuals. No overriding need exists to discover possible
drug abuse unless there is reason to suspect that an individual
is abusing drugs and is professionally impaired by such abuse.”
Respectfully, I ask that the faculty of Emory consider this issue
carefully, share their thoughts and join with the staff and students
in requesting that the new policy be withdrawn. Our values, reputation
and community are at stake.