In a move some students say is long overdue, Pepperdine University in Malibu has agreed to relax some of its policies governing visits between men and women in dormitories on campus.
The Churches of Christ-affiliated school, which prohibits dancing and alcohol on campus, requires students to get written approval from their roommates and the dormitory resident assistant if they want to visit with a person of the opposite sex in their room.
Students asked the administration to eliminate the requirement for advance permission and to extend the hours for co-ed visits, permitting them from noon to midnight on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and during finals week.
University officials, citing the school's responsibility to maintain a "high-quality moral climate" on campus, approved a compromise plan that extends the hours somewhat but retains the advance-permission requirement.
Visiting hours were set at 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays and during finals week. The old policy allowed visits from 3 to 7 p.m. and 7 to 11 p.m., with separate permits required for each four-hour period. The new policy requires only one permit a day.
Students said the obvious purpose of the rules is to prevent sexual activity in the dorms: The rules say that the door is to remain open, that the resident assistant can check at any time and that at least one roommate is to stay with the visiting couple.
Students said they respect the school's moral concerns, but want to be able to study and socialize with other students in their rooms as well as in the library or public lounges.
"'We're all 18 and above here," said Bill Clark, 20, chairman of the Student Opinion Committee, who called the university's rules on co-ed visits "childish."
Students complained that the old rules put a damper on their social life.
"Dating here is really bad," said Kelley Farley, 21, news editor of the college paper, The Graphic. "It definitely puts a crimp on spontaneity (to have to get advance written permission for a visitor)."
A survey of about 325 students found wide support for the liberalization of visiting hours and the student senate voted nearly unanimously to support extended hours, Clark said.
The administration approved the extended hours on a one-year trial basis, said Carl Mitchell, dean of student affairs. Written permits will still be required to make sure roommates have agreed to the visit and that their right to privacy is not violated, he said.
Visiting hours will not be extended on Fridays because it would be "counterproductive" to allow dorm visits during class hours, he said.
Pepperdine is struggling to balance its responsibility to provide "a high-quality moral climate" with the need to give students opportunities to socialize and study together, Mitchell said.
In response to student complaints that the men's and women's dorms are located in separate areas, divided by a fence known on campus as "the Berlin Wall," the university has agreed to stagger dorm populations so that women's and men's residences will be alternated, Mitchell said.
This plan will be instituted next year, and like the visitation hours, will be evaluated after a one-year trial, he said.
Mitchell cautioned that the university does not intend to allow co-ed dorms as some colleges have. This would be incompatible with Pepperdine's role as a Christian university, he said.
"On the one hand, we are committed to not having co-ed dorms, but on the other hand we are alert to the fact that there is a need for social contact between men and women on campus," he said. "We walk a tightrope."
Pepperdine is a private university open to students of all faiths, but it has strong philosophical ties with the fundamentalist Churches of Christ. Many students, faculty members and administrators are church members, Mitchell said.
Students said that some rules can be modified without jeopardizing the school's moral fiber.
An editorial in the school paper praised the change in visitation hours and and called for an extension of the policy to weekdays.