Vice Squad
Friday, October 24, 2003
Those Wild, Wacky Wheaton College Kids

The Chicago Tribune ponies up a front-page story today on the demise of the
dancing ban at Wheaton College in west suburban Chicago. An official school-
sponsored dance is slated to be held in the near future -- the first in Wheaton
College's existence: "Throughout the school's 143-year history, students have
been banned from drinking, smoking, gambling and social dancing on and off
campus during the school year." (The status of anti-social dancing is curiously

To be honest, the reform is not as precipitous as it sounds, because the
previous ban was full, just full, of loopholes: "Until now, Wheaton students
were allowed to dance only with members of the same sex or to square
dance....In 1997, a small policy change allowed students and teachers to dance
with spouses or relatives at family events." Those who argued against the
1997 change on slippery-slope grounds have now had their fears justified.

Perhaps the liberalization will cause some professors to turn to other vices for
solace; fortunately, Wheaton has also just "lifted a longtime ban on drinking
and smoking in private for faculty."

Neither the slippery slope nor a reinterpretation of biblical precepts, together
or alone, would have precipitated the reforms, it seems. According to the
president of Wheaton, both the end of the dance ban and the liberalization
of faculty drinking and smoking were induced, at least in part, by fear of a lawsuit
based on the 1991 Illinois Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act! This law precludes
"discrimination against employees who drink or smoke off the job unless there
is a strong religious belief against the practice." (The connection to the dancing ban
is not obvious, though presumably the problem lies in the college's historical prohibition
of off-campus dancing during the school year. Why doesn't Wheaton, a Christian college,
qualify for the religious exception? Apparently because their policies have more to do
with tradition than with religion.) Here's a case (unlike the previous smoking regulation
) where I think private ordering, absent the 1991 rule, would have been
just fine.

Update, October 25: Will Baude of Crescat Sententia scooped me on this one by, er,
six months. (I have never claimed that Vice Squad was cutting-edge.) Here are Will's
on the changes at Wheaton.

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