Senators oppose punishable smoking ban student code changes

By Megan Jones

As the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs prepares to update the University student code, Illinois student senators Rachel Heller, junior in LAS, and Kevin Seymour, graduate student, submitted a resolution, which opposes any changes to the student code that would allow the University to reprimand students for smoking. 

“We would support the smoking ban, but we do not support reprimand for any student,” Heller said. “I really don’t like it when I’m walking out of a dorm or walking out of a class, and I have to walk through a cloud of smoke, but I don’t think students should have a punishment of possible expulsion from the University for a fundamental right that they have.” 

Seymour said he and Heller realize that they are fighting a losing battle in trying to stop all changes to the student code, and it likely won’t be possible to exclude the punishment clause. 

However, Renee Romano, vice chancellor of Student Affairs, said the University hopes to employ an educational and community approach rather than a disciplinary one. 

“Our approach really isn’t punitive; however, if a person just refused to comply and just keep doing the same thing over and over, we would pursue a disciplinary situation based off the fact that there’s a University policy that they refuse to adhere to,” Romano said. 

Punishment would depend on a variety of situations, such as if a student is already on conduct probation. Romano details the progression as starting with a conversation, possibly followed by a letter of warning and then other courses of action increasing in severity. Action taken by the University will vary person-to-person based on their disciplinary history, she added.

“(The resolution) seems to imply that the student senate doesn’t want there to be any consequences for students who refuse to adhere to a University policy, so I think that it is problematic,” Romano said. “Students must comply to University policy just like staff and faculty. That’s kind of a basic condition of going to school here.”

Seymour said many faculty are being misled by the notion of majority student support for the ban in regards to the referendum held during the fall 2011 semester. Many believe that students voted by a 70-30 percent margin to ban smoking on campus, when in reality, they voted to support campus dialogue and action by the administration to explore making the University smoke-free. 

The student code already states that students must adhere to all University policies, in which the smoking ban is included. 

“I’m a little frustrated because I know what students want to know is: Can I be dismissed for smoking?” Romano said. “I think that likelihood would be very unlikely. Would someone be fired for doing that? Highly unlikely. That’s not the purpose of the smoking ban.” 

Both Heller and Seymour are members of the Conference on Conduct Governance, which handles all changes to the student code. The committee is currently reviewing the changes, and Romano hopes the code will be amended within the next few weeks. 

“We have been asked by others on the conference to come up with ‘compromise language’ which administrators and students could agree to, but that may prove to be very difficult to do,” Seymour said in an e-mail. 

Other enforcement procedures include an online reporting system, which can be found on the smoke-free campus website, and student ambassadors, who will be trained to remind anyone smoking on campus of the policy, said Michele Guerra, director of the UI Wellness Center. Notices for recruitment have been sent out, interviews will begin this week, and Guerra hopes to have ambassadors out by mid-February. 

“Obviously, with the frigid temperatures that we’re having, we are not looking at what would be normal during this time, so it’s a little hard to tell what’s going on,” Guerra said. “But I think overall, people are serious about wanting to comply with the policy.”  

Heller recommended a fining system be enforced instead, but she is not sure if that would be possible. 

The resolution was sent to the student senate’s Committee on Campus Affairs, and Heller hopes the senate will vote on it at its Wednesday meeting. 

Megan can be reached at [email protected] and @MeganAsh_Jones.