Editorial: The process matters

Our view:
Gauging student opinion more exhaustively could have resulted in a smoking ban proposal that addressed the needs of all students.

Earlier this month, the University, on recommendations made by the Residence Hall Association, enacted a ban on smoking in all residence halls to begin next year. While the RHA was attempting to work in the best interest of students in recommending the ban – which this page still supports on the whole – serious questions linger about the process by which the proposal was formed and how it will be enforced.

RHA President Daniel Miller admitted that he consciously made the decision not to formally gauge student opinion about the smoking ban – in fact calling it basically irrelevant. Even the Student Association, which is usually kept up to date on the activities of the RHA, was kept out of the loop, only to be informed at a Senate meeting after the decision had been made. The University decided to accept the RHA’s proposal on the basis that it was a “student-led” initiative, though it has become clear that student opinion was not taken into account in the proposal’s creation, which was in fact the idea of a very small group of students.

Had the RHA created a formal process for including student opinion in their proposal, the rights of smokers – and non-smokers – could have been represented more accurately. The campus-wide ban on smoking in the residence halls denies freshmen and sophomore smokers, who are required to live in on-campus residence halls, from their rights as tenants that they otherwise could enjoy off-campus.

In addition, a greater issue surrounds the enforcement of such a ban. Will University Police Department officers or Community Living and Learning Center staffers be allowed to search a student’s room based on suspicion of cigarette smoke? This is not made clear and represents a serious privacy concern for students.

At this point, the RHA has not produced any evidence to back up its claims about damage to paint and carpets, false fire alarms or health hazards to non-smokers in other floors of residence halls. The RHA does students and the administration a disservice by passing off conjectures about the effects of smoking in the dorms as demonstrated fact.

This lack of evidence and the lack of student input or knowledge about the formulation of this proposal creates the perception that the RHA, an organization claiming to represent all students living in residence halls, has pressed forward with an agenda that does not encompass the views of its constituents. The RHA’s proposal can be viewed in part as a failure in that it only addresses half of the issue and did not bring the opinion of all students to the administration or allow for plausible solutions to the inevitable problems arising from such a policy.

The RHA can still create legitimacy for its position by doing the work now that it should have done in the first place. Recognizing the inherent merit of limiting smoking in the residence halls, including student opinion in the formation of a new proposal for the University that recognizes the flaws of the previous proposal and deals with the rights of smokers will better ensure a smooth implementation of the ban.

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