Washtenaw’s smoking ban: All or nothing
ILLUSTRATION BY JOCELYN GOTLIB
In theory, Washtenaw Community College has been a smoke-free campus for years. But we all know the truth – we see students light up mere feet away from the proud, green “smoke-free” plaques that pepper the campus.
It’s a rare thing to see a campus safety and security officer actually write up a student for smoking. And can they really be blamed? It’s not exactly fun to suspend an unlucky student for essentially smoking in the wrong place at the wrong time while their luckier peers get off scot free.
And now, things have become even more complicated. The summer conventions WCC hosted
(See ‘Where there’s smoke…,’ Front Page) made it all too clear that the smoke-free rule applies only to students, faculty and staff. Sure, there was some enforcement, but for the most part, campus officers stood by as the guests puffed away.
Should the smoke-free campus policy be upheld by stricter enforcement? Yes, without question.
Should the smoke-free campus policy cease to exist? Absolutely.
All we need to do is decide.
Health includes more than just the status of your lungs in its definition. A healthy campus is one that trusts security and the administration to treat everyone, no matter the rules, as equals. How is WCC providing a “safe and healthy work and learning environment” if it only enforces the ban when it’s convenient?
No matter what course of action the college takes, it will be better than the implementation of the current policy. All it does now is show the WCC community that some groups are separate and unequal.
TWO STRIKES and you’re out?
Students not sold on new smoking policy
A new “two-strike” smoking policy is in place at Washtenaw Community College in a stepped-up attempt to make this the smoke-free campus it professes to be.
Last year, there was a three-strike policy that resulted in the suspension of one smoker. The first strike was a warning, the second brought the smoker in to sign a document acknowledging the rules and the third could lead to a suspension.
The difference this year is that anyone caught lighting up has one strike already. If caught, smokers immediately will be asked to sign a warning. If caught again, they’ll get an appointment with vice president of Student Services Linda Blakey and be suspended.
Few expect the new policy to rid the campus of smoking, though.
“If we had 100 percent compliance, that’d be great,” said campus safety and security director Jacques Desrosiers. “That’d be wishful thinking.”
And students still aren’t sold on the fact that it’ll be any different after years of a rather casual enforcement policy.
“I’ve had friends that smoke out here every day and people come out and warn them every day,” said Joel French-Santure, 23, of Pinckney, a nursing student.
Some college employees also wonder if people will take it seriously.
“I think it’s a good policy, as long as it’s enforced,” said Unix Administrator Rex Roof. “I feel like people don’t even know the policy.”
This semester, the college is making it a priority, however. Desrosiers is entering his first Fall as campus safety and security director and wants to make an impact with the new policy. And clearly the college is tiring of the issue.
“Last semester we still got complaints,” Vice President Blakey said of the three-strike policy.
The suspensions will be judged on a case-by-case format, she said, adding that those thinking they can light up late in the semester without fear of repercussion might think again.
“The first week of December, if we suspend someone it might not even matter to them,” said Blakey. “So they would get suspended for the next semester.”
College administrators have their work cut out for them if they really want to end smoking on campus, others say.
“I don’t think it will work at all,” said Jay Semifero, 19, of Dexter, studying exercise science. “I used to smoke, and those warnings never stopped me. If they’re going to smoke, they’re going to smoke.”
Where there’s smoke…
Employees hot about special treatment for visiting smokers
Washtenaw Community College saw a lot of smoke this summer. But those curious enough to find the source weren’t afraid of the fire.
They were afraid they’d be
A staff member and a faculty member from WCC came forward to speak to The Washtenaw Voice about preferential treatment they observed when Ironworkers International and the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters (UA) visited the campus over the summer months.
Both employees described scenes where campus safety and security officers looked on as members of the II participated in heavy drinking on campus and members from both associations smoked cigarettes, despite the college’s smoking ban. They saw II members walk away from the outdoor bar near the Occupational Education building with not just one beer, but several at a time.
“There seemed to be a good deal of binge drinking occurring. This did not seem like an event where participants were drinking lightly,” said the faculty member.
The alcohol, which was beer only, was provided by the II during part of their July 12-22 convention at WCC. The association was responsible for everything from bottle removal to serving, according to WCC’s policy on the use and possession of alcoholic beverages on campus.
Both employees felt that there needed to be tighter regulation of drinking at the event. They found beer bottles outside the OE building and watched as II members took beer into the building.
“I observed that the alcohol was free to anyone who approached the table where they were handing out beer,” said the faculty member. “My concern was that an underage student could walk up to the free beer table and be served.”
Along with bottles were butts; several WCC employees stated that they saw the campus littered with cigarette butts after the II’s visit and after the UA’s Aug. 9-13 visit. The faculty and staff member saw campus officers enforce the smoking ban close to doorways, but both believed that any further enforcement had been put on hold due to the amount of money both associations bring to the school.
“This is basically the college prostituting itself for money,” said the faculty member.
WCC President Larry Whitworth admitted that campus safety and security tread lightly on the two associations for smoking – a violation that, if repeated, could send students, staff and faculty packing. As it stands, the smoking ban states that students may be suspended, while faculty and staff members could be terminated.
Whitworth, however, said the special treatment had nothing to do with money.
“This is part of their one week away from home and away from their job. So were we a little more lax than we would normally be, yes,” he said.
Whitworth added that the UA leadership made it clear to their members that they were expected to abide by WCC’s smoke-free campus policy. Also, both events were held during student breaks, limiting the amount of smoke to which students were exposed.
Director of campus safety and security Jacques Desrosiers believed that future visits from the II will be better. It was, after all, their first visit to the campus, he said, and his department had a difficult time informing all the members about the rules.
The UA was an entirely different animal. Or at least, different from the way the WCC community would be treated.
“They don’t really have to follow the dictates of the trustees because they’re not students, and they’re not staff,” said Desrosiers.
While it’s true that the smoke-free campus policy never specifies its constituents, it does say that all persons on the campus, whether employees, students or visitors, have “the right not to be exposed to the effects of smoke.”
Despite claims to the contrary, the faculty and staff member still believe it all comes down to greed.
“Now it seems that if you bring enough money to the college, you can do whatever it is you want,” said the faculty member.
Both the staff member and the faculty member asked The Voice to keep their names out of this article for fear of retribution.
“I can’t afford to lose my job. That would mess me up terribly,” said the staff member.
The staff member went so far as to suggest that the policy be changed or done away with altogether. With one cohesive rule about smoking on campus, there would be no confusion and everyone would be treated equally, the employee said.
Weeks later, the beer and cigarettes are gone. But the fumes from the WCC community are only beginning to spread.
Voice staffer Matt Durr contributed to this report
Smoking policy enforcement should’ve happened long ago
Washtenaw Community College is a non-smoking campus, and it finally intends to strictly enforce its policy.
And it’s long overdue. Enforcement should have been happening all along.
The college’s board of trustees put the smoke-free campus policy in place in 2006. Since then, students have still lit up freely, with security personnel taking little notice or interest. When a policy is made but not enforced, people take note. And everyone has noticed smokers all across campus so they think they can get away with it, too.
Having a policy in place simply so WCC looks good doesn’t make sense when smoking is still happening here—it only makes the college seem unconcerned with following through.
President Larry Whitworth said WCC is starting a campaign to remind students that they cannot smoke on campus. If the policy had been enforced since the beginning, then students wouldn’t need this reminder.
“WCC is a Smoke Free Campus,” multiple signs outside campus buildings proclaim, but it’s never been true. We’ll believe it when we see it.
Some employees feel singled out by college’s inflexible no-smoking policy
J. MICHEAL COLLINS
CHRIS ASADIAN THE WASHTENAW VOICE
Ray Everett is in a quandary. He’s just had quite a workout involving some heavy lifting, which is often required in his job in Facilities Management, and he could use a smoke.
He’s got one of two choices: Go to his car and light up—and risk a five-day unpaid suspension. Or go to his car for a short drive off campus—and risk losing his parking spot and being late to clock back in, creating another issue that could result in disciplinary action.
Washtenaw Community College promotes itself as “a smoke-free” campus, and Everett’s boss takes that seriously. Smokers in other groups—students, faculty and staff—face different penalties for violating the policy.
“We are a smoke-free campus,” said WCC President Larry Whitworth. “Although we try to be flexible, we want our students starting lifelong habits that are positive. Employers are not interested in hiring smokers.
We expect our employees to abide by the rules and be a positive influence.”
Campus Safety and Security (CSS) can and will cite those who violate the policy.
“There is one policy in place for everyone,” said Ron Schebil, CSS director. “Students who violate the policy are given a written warning notice and continuous violations can lead to students being prevented from registering for future classes at WCC.”
There are also guidelines in place to deal with most of the college’s employees busted for lighting up.
“Violations of the non-smoking policy by staff and faculty are seen as a violation of the employee policy and it would be handled through progressive discipline,” said Doug Kruzel, associate vice president for Human Resources. “Progressive discipline means that an employee who violates the policy would first receive a verbal warning; a second violation can result in a written warning and a third or subsequent violation could lead to disciplinary action up to and including termination.”
To date no one has been suspended or fired as a result of violating the non-smoking policy, Kruzel said.
But it’s just a matter of time before someone is, said those who work for Facilities Management. They’re uneasy about it, and Everett said it’s starting to affect morale.
But does the college single out these hourly employees differently than other workers?
As it turns out, the collective bargaining agreements between WCC and unions representing both faculty and office staff specifies that “progressive discipline” shall be used if it becomes necessary to discipline a covered employee.
The collective bargaining agreement between the college and AFSCME Local 1921—Everett’s union that represents more than 60 grounds and janitorial workers—does not contain language requiring such progressive discipline. So when workers received an e-mail memo from Damon Flowers, associate vice president for Facilities Development and Operations saying they no longer will be allowed to smoke on campus—even in their personal vehicles—he was within his bounds of authority, however fair or unfair it seemed.
The disciplinary guidelines for Facilities employees are the responsibility of that division’s supervisor, Whitworth explained.
“Everybody smokes at will,” said Everett, 57, a lifelong smoker who has tried in myriad ways to quit. “All we want is a spot, a designated area where we can go to, out of the way but still on campus.”
The issue is non-negotiable, Flowers said.
“We are past the talking stage,” Flowers said. “The board policy is no smoking on campus. Smoking in personal vehicles was one interpretation, but it was causing interruptions in workflow.
“Leaving campus is disruptive and any place on campus is still on campus so that idea was rejected.”
Everett believes the disciplinary measures Flowers is threatening is harsh and serves no one.
“Why not offer counseling over disciplinary action?” Everett asked.
Whitworth believes that employees should be able to control their smoking urges for the eight hours they are at work.
“Is it unfair to expect people to be concerned about their own health?” Whitworth asked.
But experts confirm that while quitting nicotine forever is difficult, refraining from smoking for short periods of time is not impossible – with a little help.
“Because of nicotine replacement products that are available, cravings will exist but smokers won’t experience withdrawal,” said Sally K. Guthrie, associate professor at the University of Michigan’s College of Pharmacy. “It’s extremely hard to discontinue the use of nicotine. Even though withdrawal itself is dangerous, it doesn’t last long in comparison to the cravings which can continue for years.”
Meantime, Flowers said his department’s new policy is a hit among some workers.
“Several non-smoking employees have expressed that they are grateful for the policy,” he said. “And they say it’s about time.”