Committee on College Life passes smoking ban

Last Wednesday, April 10, the Committee on College Life (CCL) endorsed an all-campus Smoking Ban. The resolution that was passed will now go to the President of the College as a recommendation from the students, faculty, and administration that comprise the committee. The resolution provides for a period of education, smoking cessation programs, and other campus resources to be offered to the Vassar community before the ban would take full effect in July 2015.

The passed resolution doesn’t speak to the specifics of the process in which smoking would be banned, instead focusing on more general terms. As President of the VSA and member of CCL Jason Rubin ’13 stated, “That was an intentional decision to stay away from [defining the specifics of the process] and to make the decision to move forward with this.”

As part of the decision process, CCL listened to a presentation done by the Smoking and Tobacco Research Action Team (START) which recently conducted an electronic campus-wide survey. This sub-committee was formed from CCL. As Rubin explained, “There was concern that in terms of shared governance that there wasn’t enough outreach to the students or that students weren’t involved or didn’t know that this was happening when the vote was taking place. START was a response to a feeling that students weren’t included in the decision more broadly.”

President of the Terrace Apartments and Co-Chair of START Devin Griffin ‘13, echoed this idea, “At the end of last semester, it became apparent that these conversations [about the smoking ban] were more than that. They were looking to pass a proposal.”

He continued, “A couple of the Council members decided to pass a resolution saying that there had been no student input on this issue beyond the seven student representatives and that student input is necessary in order to ethically pass the smoking ban.”

President of Josselyn House and CCL member Casey Hancock ’15 was one of the Council members who proposed the foundation of START. He expressed frustration at the lack of student involvement in the smoking ban process and the barriers he encountered in trying to involve a stronger student voice. Hancock noted, “[START] wasn’t actually something that the VSA Executive Board wanted to happen.”

He continued, “In fact, in the first few meetings of CCL this year, the discussion was about whether or not the school should be told at all, and the administrators were saying that the students shouldn’t be told because they will believe that a ban is valid if we just do it. Whereas if we ask the students about it, they won’t think it’s a legitimate thing and they won’t respect it, and thus, enforcement won’t work.”

Hancock also expressed skepticism at the credibility of the composition of the committee. “The number of people on CCL is the start of it. There are more administrators and faculty than there are students. The changes in the governance of the college should make it next year so that there are an equal number of students to administrators and then faculty [will be] seen as the middle ground. It is supposed to be much more balanced.”

He then described the composition of the student portion of the committee. “There are the two VSA Executive Board people which are the President [Jason Rubin] and the VP for Student Life [Dallas Robinson], then there is the Co-Chair for the Board of House Presidents, which is what I am, and then the four class reps. And then the one other student that sits on there, there are actually two of them but one never shows up, is the assistant to the President who votes on the committee as a student but is actually paid by the college in order to push forward the agenda of the President of the college.”

Rubin, on the other hand, described CCL optimistically, saying he believed the committee did have the necessary balance of voices and representation. He noted, “CCL is a bit odd because it’s a large committee and there are a lot of people on it who don’t vote…But it’s unique in that it has a very large student representation. If students vote against something unanimously, it’s not going to go through.”

Hancock expressed disappointment with the decision to support the ban. He argued, “The results seem to show that students would be in favor of moving towards designated smoking areas because then you solve all of the second-hand smoke arguments and also allow individuals to choose whether or not they want to smoke.”

Presenting some of the reasoning behind supporting the ban, Rubin noted, “It’s multi-faceted… The [New York] state is already moving in this direction. The SUNY system is going smoke-free. That’s sort of an easier thing for the state to do because its public but we obviously get federal funding. So at some point that will happen in the future, it’s unclear when.”

Some controversy came to air in examining the questions that made up the survey proposed by START. Some felt questions in the survey were leading and others expressed concern about the revision process for the survey.

One anonymous source stated, “The START committee had a set of questions initially that had been reviewed by a Sociology professor and the professor who is very experienced in research methods said that she thought that the original draft of the proposal was unbiased and then after that, someone on START sent the questions to Rene Pabst who is an observing [non-voting] member of CCL and she actually had the questions of the survey changed so that they were significantly more biased. In fact there were questions originally that weren’t included in the resulting memo that were taken out because of their very clear bias.”

Griffin confirmed this. “Because we’re not incredibly experienced with crafting survey questions and minimizing bias, we did send it to Rene [Pabst]. I understand that that, in a way, is a conflict of interest, but we made it clear that we weren’t trying to change the questions, and so it was working on wording, but we also sent it to Elizabeth Shrock who has her PhD in research and who also has less of a personal stake in this.”

Griffin continued, “There did end up being questions that we thought were biased or maybe unclear that we didn’t end up using in our data.”

Data from the START survey has already been shown to the VSA and is published within the Opinions section of this edition. The recommendation to President Hill will be made soon and the President is expected to enact the new Smoking Ban resolution.

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