Times change, issues stay the same
As staff writers here at The Voice
, part of our job is to talk with students on campus about what issues they are concerned about here at Washtenaw Community College. And as part of the discussion, two things always come up: Smoking and parking.
Ah, everyone’s two favorite topics. While I’m not here to revisit those issues, it’s interesting to me that the conflicts are always on going at WCC and haven’t been resolved. The disputes have gone back to the beginning of our school’s Huron River campus in the 1970s.
I’ve been going back in time, so to speak, doing some research for other stories here on campus. When I was looking at old copies of The Voice
from the ’60s and ’70s, two conflicts stood out: Smoking and parking.
Back then, the smoking issue was based around whether or not students and staff should be allowed to smoke in classrooms and hallways. Smokers were fired up about the idea of being assigned an area where they could smoke indoors. The compromise that non-smokers wanted was for smokers to simply go outside.
More than 40 years later, we are still dealing with the issue of where smokers can go to get their tobacco fix.
The majority of people here at WCC, whether they are students or employees, have some sort of parking horror story. We can all relate to the problem and have been late to something because of the mess.
And just like now, students back then were frustrated with the lack of parking on campus. Front page stories ran about why parking was so bad and what students could do to ensure a parking spot for class.
Even when enrollment was a fraction of what it is today, WCC has never been able to keep everyone happy at the same time.
It got me to thinking about why these issues never seem to get fixed. Seems to me, if these issues have been nagging for more than 40 years, something should have been done to solve these problems.
And all I could come up with was that nothing can be done. Nothing can ever be done to make everyone happy. I think WCC and those in charge do a damn fine job at taking care of all of the big things on our campus. If these minor issues will always be a part of the WCC experience, then so be it.
In the grand scheme of things, these issues just don’t matter as much as we would like to think they do. People will always find something to bitch about, regardless of how good things are.
Call it hypocritical, but if I’ve learned anything from this process, the students’ press – their voice – will be right there to talk about it. It’s what we’re supposed to do.
Enforcement of stricter policy has some employees nervous
BENJAMIN MICHAEL SOLIS
Derek Nelson plants tulips in the main courtyard, while Angela Gelesky twirls a pen in her hand anxiously. Across campus, Gary Sobbry can be found munching sunflower seeds, while Jordan Neamann makes sandwiches in the Student Center’s Subway.
It’s an ordinary autumn afternoon, and the sound of chilling wind is marked by the cacophony of construction and machinery. The Fall semester is nearing its median, and students eagerly (and often fearfully) await their midterm exams.
The faculty and staff of Washtenaw Community College are hard at work as well.
But while Nelson, Gelesky, Sobbry and Neamann each are doing a very different task, all of them have something profoundly in common: they all smoke cigarettes and now cannot as a cause of WCC’s smoke-free campus policy.
The college’s non-smoking policy went into effect in 2005, nearly six years ago, with revisions being made over the years accordingly. The most important change pertains to students who are caught smoking on Washtenaw campus.
For students, the consequences are now much more dire than they were previously.
If students are caught smoking on campus, they are issued a ticket and a formal write-up. If students are caught a second time, a disciplinary meeting is held, and the possibility of a semester-long suspension may result.
With these consequences in place, students have either decided to light up off campus, find new ways to sneak cigarettes between class breaks, or explore other options to nullify America’s number-one addiction.
The same goes for employees.
“I’ve had to find other avenues,” Gelesky said. “When things used to get hairy, you’d be able to go out, have a cigarette and it would calm you down. Now you have to find something else to do.”
Gelesky, accounts payable tech assistant for WCC Financial Services, has been smoking for 20 years. She said that it is hard for her to manage stress without the ability to smoke freely on campus.
Sobbry, chairman of the auto-body repair and concepts program, now eats sunflower seeds almost ritualistically. A smoker since the age of 16, he too feels that not smoking during the day is a struggle, and says that the sunflower seeds don’t necessarily help the cravings for nicotine.
“I unfortunately used chewing tobacco, as well as cigarettes, so the sunflower seeds help in that respect,” said Sobbry.
Yet, unlike students, these workers say they are unaware of the official set of consequences if an employee is caught smoking on campus.
A handful of union-contracted consequences are more serious than students’, citing a first offense as five days without pay, and a second offense as possible termination.
One instructor, who said he is on probation for on-site smoking, refused to comment for fear that he may lose his job.
Gelesky said the she feels the consequences for employees, as well as students, are too harsh.
“University of Michigan has a smoke ban, but they also have an area outside where students and teachers can go smoke,” Gelesky said. “They also don’t get told that if they smoke on campus, they can lose their jobs, or get kicked out of school.”
Yet Gelesky acknowledged she was unaware of the college’s official smoking policy regarding employees.
“I’m not sure what [security and WCC] do. I’m not aware of what their rules are,” said Gelesky.
Mary Gmeiner, director of labor and employee relations, said that the discipline for employees is a handled in a four-strike system.
The first offense is an oral warning. Next, a written warning is issued. If the employee is caught a third time, suspension is considered.
Finally, after four strikes, termination of the employee is an option, Gmeiner explained.
John Rinke, director of counseling and support services, recently quit smoking.
“I’ve never seen anything in writing,” Rinke said.
According to the Board of Trustees Policy Manual, discipline is intended to be “essentially corrective rather than retributive.” This information can be found under Series 5090, the section dedicated to work practices and codes of conduct for all faculty and staff.
Neamann, an employee at Washtenaw’s Student Center Subway, learned about this system only upon being interviewed.
Neamann is contracted by an outside hospitality group, but still has to adhere to WCC’s rules. Neamann is a third-year WCC student, as well.
Neamann, along with Gelesky, also feels that the student consequences are too severe, and that difference in policy for employees and students is unfair. He says that students are paying customers, and should be given the same leeway.
“I should have the liberty to go out and smoke if I want,” said Neamann. “You know, I wasn’t even aware of the policy or the rules other than that the campus is smoke-free. At least make them known if they are going to enforce them.”
ILLUSTRATION BY KATE BIZER WASHTENAW VOICE
We all know that tobacco products cause cancer. You would have to be shunned from all media outlets to try and argue that smoking a pack a day will have no negative effects — and find someone who will believe you. Nicotine’s negative effects are why everywhere I turn there seems to be a no smoking sign or a commercial for a new smoking cessation wonder-drug. And, of course, my personal favorite, the billboard depicting a crack-addict mother holding her infant son, coming off her high and chain smoking in a dirty living room.
I get it. Smoking is bad.
When I took my mandatory health class in middle school I saw the grotesque pictures of black lungs and rotten gums from cigarettes. I understand that people who smoke for 50 years will probably die of lung cancer or a blocked artery. I’m no physician, but logic tells me that the sure fire way to avoid tobacco related diseases — and death — would be to… not smoke.
But those who choose to smoke have a right to do so. And this new smoking ban gives me the nearly uncontrollable desire to blow smoke in the face of every whiny 24-year-old boy who claims to be allergic to it. Go back to your apple-tini and quit crying, because I can guarantee the smoke from my cigarette will not be the cause of your untimely death. I’d put my money on your Crocs and too-tight Abercrombie sweater bringing immense amounts of future pain your way.
It is absolutely ridiculous that people won’t be allowed to smoke in bars in Michigan.
If you don’t want to be around it, go home. Or at least go to a different bar so I can enjoy my beer, and nicotine too.