Bear Wilner-Nugent ‘95 Challenges Kroger to Debate Over Paideia Controversy
Criminal defense lawyer Bear Wilner-Nugent ‘95 challenged President John Kroger last month to a public debate on “Reed’s drug policies under the administration and how they do or do not relate to the US drug policy.” Wilner-Nugent, who has long been critical of Reed’s drug policy, issued the challenge after recent censorship of Paideia classes, hoping to make “Kroger think twice about the hornets’ nest he’s stirred up and maybe [have] a moment of personal growth where he can learn from this” as well as provide an additional, informed viewpoint to the discussion.
Kroger says he will probably not take up a debate challenge any time soon, though he may sit down to lunch with Wilner-Nugent. “Bear and I probably agree on more than I think he’s aware,” he says, adding, “I’m more into community conversations than one-on-one debates.”
Should Reed take the challenge seriously? Alumni board member Paul Levy ’72 does not know Wilner-Nugent but believes the challenge is “posturing” and an attempt to “raise his profile.” Former President of the alumni board Jay Hubert ’66 says Reed “needs a more open process, and I think Bear is trying to push for that, but I’m not sure he’s the best person” but that “ultimately what we need to see is a debate between [Kroger,] students and faculty.”
On the other hand, alumni board member Steven Seal ’01, who has worked with Wilner-Nugent professionally, sees him as an “expert on drug policy,” and believes that this is a “debate worth having” because the community would receive “actual figures on how dangerous [are] different types of drugs, including alcohol.” Wilner-Nugent wrote his senior thesis on drug law, was listed in Reed Magazine’s 2008 Volunteer Honor Roll, co-teaches his yearly Paideia class “The Law and Your Ass” and smokes meat at Renn Fayre.
Ideally, Wilner-Nugent hopes to have a Reed Union, with a panel consisting of him, a “student who has been active around these issues,” a “member of the Health and Counseling Center or a Psychology professor familiar with these issues,” President Kroger, Director of Community Safety Gary Granger, and Dean of Student Services Mike Brody. He would like to address the following topics in either this Reed Union or a public debate with John Kroger.
First, Wilner-Nugent would like to argue that “going after pot smokers” in response to the problems of harder drugs is an example of how Kroger “conflates marijuana with other drugs routinely” and misleadingly “employs public health rhetoric around it.”
He claims “Gary Granger wants to expel students for involvement with selling nonviolent drugs” and that “Reed is feeding its students to the criminal justice system.” (He declined to comment further due to “client issues.”) He would like to have Brody involved in the Reed Union because he “approves searches of student rooms.”
Wilner-Nugent critiques Reed’s strictly confidential judiciary system, calling it a process of “secret tribunals” where, for the marijuana cases, “the punishments are vastly more destructive than drugs,” and students are at a disadvantage due to their lack of legal resources compared to the college’s.
Ultimately, Wilner-Nugent advocates less unilateral decision-making on Kroger’s side as well as a more open environment where “without probable cause of felony students won’t be searched.” Furthermore, he believes that “Reed can set an example of how to have the most valid drug safety education,” but at present it is a “conservative college in a liberal climate.” He claims, “Reed has a drug policy that is ostensibly safety based, which is making the college less safe” since it engenders more secretive behaviors by students.