When the Berkeley Student Cooperative’s insurance provider settled a lawsuit over winter break with the family of John Gibson, a former student who overdosed at Cloyne Court in 2010, it became abundantly clear that, because of a number of similar incidents, Cloyne posed a significant legal liability to the co-op system. Though drug culture at UC Berkeley does not stop or start at Cloyne, and the BSC’s proposal to purge Cloyne of its residents and culture will do little to improve the dangerous effects of drug culture on campus overall, it is the BSC’s only option if it wishes to avoid massive legal liability and preserve the co-op system as a whole.
In a conversation with the Daily Cal’s Senior Editorial Board Wednesday, BSC President Michelle Nacouzi explained that because the Gibson overdose was one of multiple tragedies to happen at Cloyne, the BSC could easily be accused of negligence in a future lawsuit for tolerating a drug culture if a similar incident were to occur again at Cloyne. Following the Gibson lawsuit’s settlement, the BSC cabinet was advised that it could lose both its insurance coverage and its leases on four co-op properties that sit on university-owned land. Thus, cabinet members have proposed evicting all current Cloyne residents, disallowing former residents from returning, painting over the house’s abundant artwork and converting it into academic-theme, substance-free housing.
Although it sounds extreme, the board’s proposal to purge Cloyne of its residents and culture is its best option for avoiding the potentially dire consequences the BSC would otherwise face. It is equally understandable, though, that the proposal prompted considerable backlash. In a separate interview with the board, current residents of Cloyne acknowledged the gravity of the BSC’s insurance and liability concerns but argued that the BSC’s proposal was announced too abruptly, and that their inclusion in the process could have yielded an effective proposal while also keeping the Cloyne community intact. The residents, referred to as clones, also assert that since Gibson’s overdose in 2010, they have made strides in creating a safer and more responsible house culture by introducing, for example, a live-in facilities manager and stricter enforcement of BSC policies.
Those steps are commendable and important. But similar harm-reduction attempts at Cloyne have been insufficient in reducing risk in the past, and because the BSC needs to resolve the future of the house before it finalizes next year’s housing budget later this month, the BSC cabinet made the best choice available to it in the time it had.
Likewise, Cloyne residents are correct in asserting that the BSC proposal is unfair to individual clones in the house’s vibrant, close-knit community who have played no part in the reputed drug culture or contributed to its risk. Despite that, it’s still necessary. Reinventing Cloyne reduces the likelihood that an incident for which the BSC is legally liable will result in other properties being shut down.
Cloyne residents’ concerns with or counteroffers to the BSC proposal — legitimate as many of them may be — are simply no match for the Goliath that is the legal liability concern. That said, singling out Cloyne to limit BSC liability is not necessarily consistent with improving student safety. Drug culture is not limited to or centered at Cloyne. The majority of party-going college students can attest to the rampant drug and alcohol abuse and other high-risk behavior that has become ubiquitous, even glamorized, on college campuses across the country in fraternities, sororities, dormitories and housing completely unaffiliated with the campus. Cloyne has undeniably had numerous problems over the past decade. But shutting down a single co-op won’t solve the underlying causes of a problem that specific incidents were a symptom of.
This is an outcome that nobody wanted. But to limit its liability and ensure that it can continue providing affordable housing to students, the BSC must let Cloyne go.