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STUDENT CRIMINALS AREN'T CODDLED

Armed robbery, pistol whipping, arson, drug possession, rape, fights resulting in injuries.

This isn't life in the big city.

It's a list of crimes committed over the past 18 months by students at Niagara University in normally quiet Lewiston.

What's going on?

"We're getting the headlines because we're doing something about the problems," said university spokesman Linus L. Ormsby Jr.

"We have campus security. But when there is criminal activity, we bring in the authorities. We let the courts hold the students accountable. We do not adjudicate the matter ourselves."

Niagara's vice president for student life is equally firm:

"The arrests of students in recent months indicates the university's low tolerance for those who break laws or exhibit behaviors that do not respect the welfare of others," Sheila L. Hausrath said.

"Niagara lets students know when they come to the university that we will not be a sanctuary for anyone who chooses to participate in unlawful activities."

Just this week, two roommates at the university were arrested by Niagara County sheriff's investigators for setting fires in their Seton Hall dormitory while other students were sleeping. They were charged with felony criminal mischief.

Earlier this month, a Niagara student was caught with 92 packets of suspected marijuana in his dormitory room and charged with criminal possession of the illegal substance.

He was apprehended as Lewiston and Niagara police and Niagara County sheriff's investigators sought two masked bandits who entered another student's dormitory room, struck him on the head with a pistol and robbed him of $10.

The masked bandits, also believed to be students, have not been arrested, and no gun has been found, Ormsby said.

In November, three Niagara University students were arrested by Lewiston town police after being involved in a fight in which one was injured.

It was the second time in a week that Niagara students were arrested or hurt in a fight that began off-campus at a bar and continued on campus.

Also in November, a former Niagara student -- convicted of third-degree rape in a 1996 attack on a fellow student in a university dormitory -- was granted youthful offender status. He was 18 at the time of the attack.

In September, three key members of the university's varsity basketball team were suspended after a barroom brawl during which another Niagara student was injured.

The players, later reinstated, were not arrested as the injured student chose not to file charges with Lewiston police. The players did, however, undergo review by the university's student life sector.

School officials defended the tough-love policy even though it risks generating bad publicity and harming the university's reputation.

Said Ormsby: "It's a double-edged sword because some incidents get blown out of proportion or turn out later after an investigation not to have been crimes. But we've chosen to do what we think is the proper course of action."

In addition, he said it's not fair to judge a school or its students based on the actions of a few.

"We do not hesitate to partner with local law enforcement in holding students accountable for their actions," Mrs. Hausrath said.

"We make this clear to parents as well as students."

Although some of the students arrested over the past few months are no longer at the university, others are. The latter include the two roommates charged this week with starting fires in Seton Hall while other students slept.

"They are still in school," said Ormsby. "We are waiting for the outcome of the charges against them before the university's judicial process kicks in."

Officials do not attribute the incidents to a significant change in the type of students who attend Niagara University.

"Students are not worse today. Our students reflect society, as they always have," Ormsby said. "And, as always, there are a few individuals who cause this."

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