February 24, 2003

Drug testing not right for Emory

Bryan Conley is senior associate director of development for the Carter Center.

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 University.

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 real needs?

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 privacy?

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.






Index Find Help Find Sites Find Jobs Find People Find Events