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Just why do many students want to live off campus? And does this desire in any way reflect on their morals?

These are the questions that have been sharply debated at Duquesne University in the last week as students reacted with anger when President Charles J. Dougherty criticized students for wanting to live off campus, as juniors and seniors are permitted to do. The Duquesne Duke, the student newspaper, quoted him (in remarks confirmed by others) as saying, “We know why they move off campus …. They flaunt the state liquor laws and they live a libertine lifestyle that is not allowed on campus. We are aware of the Mardi Gras that goes on [off-campus] every weekend.”

The comments apparently had students checking the definition of “libertine” and not liking what they found. An editorial in the newspaper quoted the Merriam-Webster dictionary as saying that a libertine is “a person … who leads an immoral life and is mainly interested in sexual pleasure.”

While the editorial noted that some students do enjoy partying off campus more than they might on campus, that’s not why most students make the move, it says.

“The primary reason to move off campus is price. Price, price, price. Room and board rates start at $5,000 and can reach $7,000,” the editorial says. “This means students are spending at least $1,250 each month, which is roughly double what a student renting a house on the South Side spends on rent, utilities and groceries.”

When students are making an economic decision, the editorial says, it is “offensive and inaccurate” to suggest they are motivated for shallower reasons. And noting that half of the newspaper’s staff lives off campus, the editorial adds that the student journalists know what they are talking about, “and we have the work ethic and GPAs to prove it.”

To judge from the comments posted on the editorial, many at Duquesne agree.

Amid the uproar, Dougherty on Friday issued an apology -- sort of. In a letter to the student body president, he defended his view that some students move off campus to engage in behavior he views as wrong. But he also said that wasn’t true of everyone.

In discussing his remarks, Dougherty wrote, “I made the point that life off campus allows for greater access to alcohol, sometimes in violation of state law. It also allows for behaviors that we cannot accept on the campus of a [Roman] Catholic university.”

He added, however: “I did not mean to imply that every student who moves off campus does so for these reasons or either of them. I know this is not true. And I apologize to anyone who took my remarks to imply that I believe this.”

While most of the comments on social media dispute the idea that Duquesne students go off campus to be libertine, some say that the university's president may underestimate his ability to assure morality on campus.

And at least some on Twitter think there has been something good to come out of the debate.

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