EDITORIAL: Campus-wide smoking ban a smoldering mess

In Editorials, Opinion
Mike Trujillo / Daily Titan
Mike Trujillo / Daily Titan

Passing a campus-wide smoking ban and eliminating smoking on campus are two entirely different things. While one is an aspiration, the other is a challenge in which its execution can define the success and credibility of administrators, and the university they seek to represent, for years.

Interviews with administration insiders suggest that the policy has generally resulted in a decrease in smoking. Comments from faculty, students and staff point to a picture less rosy, one in which perpetrators understand that their flagrant violations of policy will be rewarded with nothing less than getting away with it.

A closer examination of Presidential Directive 18 is needed to understand how a policy which made Cal State Fullerton the first school among California State University institutions to ban smoking on campus became another example of bureaucratic obfuscation and waste.

Three semesters ago, before the Academic Senate had voted on the smoking ban resolution, former interim President Willie Hagan said “enforcement will be a critical part of this action in the future.” And Hagan meant it.

On June 6, 2012, Hagan signed Directive 18, which among other things had an accountability clause that read: “faculty, staff and students violating this policy are subject to disciplinary action pursuant to the applicable collective bargaining agreement and/or administrative policies or procedures.”

Though the original directive does not elaborate on what “administrative policies or procedures” meant, the revised accountability clause signed by President Mildred García a week before the campuswide ban went into effect appears to be even more toothless.

“The success of this policy depends on the thoughtfulness, civility and cooperation of all members of the campus community, including visitors, the clause says.

Compliance is grounded in an informed and educated campus community. Incidents related to this policy will be addressed through applicable administrative policies.”

Not mentioned in either version of the presidential directive is the smoking ban task force, a committee created by the Academic Senate resolution to educate and support students and faculty in the process of transitioning to a total ban on campus.

May Wong, chair of the smoking ban task force, and Curtis Plotkin, director of Environmental Health and Safety, maintain that the smoking ban policy had come “in tact,” and said it was not possible for the task force to suggest changes.

However, a representative from Associated Students Inc. said repeatedly there were “constant amendments” to the policy and the committee had gone through “several drafts” of the smoking ban.

The conflicting accounts of the discussions taking place at task force meetings underscores the lack of clarity and understanding among the people most responsible for implementing the policy itself.

More concerning is the disputed role unions played in the implementation and revision of Directive 18.

Both representatives from ASI noted that by July, the task force was still waiting to hear feedback from organized labor groups on campus.

“There was a big waiting game because at that moment the proposal for the smoking ban was with the union … we were waiting on if the union did indeed agree with the conditions of the smoking ban,” Carlos Navarro, ASI chief administrative officer said.

Two union leaders contest that account, and three union leaders do not recall ever having been in negotiations with the administration in summer 2013.

According to one union leader, organized labor groups last convened with administration officials in 2012 after the original draft of Directive 18 had included disciplinary action provisions. Adding additional disciplinary consequences to employee contracts would have triggered a collective bargaining process known as a “meet and confer.”

The absence of disciplinary provisions in the current directive may have been a way for the administration to avoid the drawn-out process a meet and confer would have caused, keeping their Aug. 1 launch date on schedule.

CSUF Media Relations Director Christopher Bugbee would not say on the record why President García had removed the disciplinary provisions of Directive 18, nor would he point out if any individual group had played a key role in making those specific changes, saying “changes to Directive 18 likely reflect input from (the task force, individual university departments and unions).”

Repeatedly pressed for answers, Bugbee said “the University doesn’t typically spend much time reconstructing the processes by which decisions are reached and policies formulated, nor does it typically report out minutes of meetings, etc.” The lack of transparency the administration has provided in the policymaking process is as reprehensible as it is disconcerting.

Both drafts of Directive 18 stress the need for “adequate time” to plan for the rollout of the smoking ban.

The time between June 6, 2012 and Aug. 1 would have been almost 14 months, but the smoking ban task force did not convene until the end of January 2013.

With only six months to plan for the implementation of a campuswide smoking ban, it was no surprise then that members of the task force were concerned the committee was “going too fast.”

The campus-wide smoking ban raises the question of whether public policy should continue to exist if it does not achieve its intended goals.

Directive 18, in its adulterated form, only serves as fuel for advocates of limited government, who will argue that the policy has done nothing but create an unnecessary bureaucracy that wastes time and money and is ultimately ineffective. Removing the ashtrays from their previous locations did not discourage people from smoking. It simply gave them no designated place to throw their used cigarettes.

Using a “peer pressure” model to implement the smoking ban asks students, faculty and staff to forget what decades of anti-drug policy has taught them.

Instead, they must distinguish between good peer pressure and bad peer pressure, a task made even more arbitrary in the environment created by the administration.

The conundrum posed by community-based enforcement can best be explained in the words of history professor David Freeman: “I refuse to be associated with any policy that effectively encourages students, faculty, staff and visitors to campus to snitch on one another.”

If the administration really cares about the adverse health effects of secondhand smoke, they should be more concerned about the efficacy of their policy instead of making history.

Being “the first” to do anything is only remarkable if the achievement itself has merit. It is clear that the administration did not consider this notion in the process of creating, revising and implementing the smoking ban.

Moving forward, the administration should conduct an actual survey of students who continue to violate the smoking ban each month.

Only after seeing a measurable decrease can the university begin to boast of the success of their policy. If studies show community enforcement and peer pressure do not work, the administration should think about what will more effectively reduce the likelihood of secondhand smoke.

Given a reasonable number of designated smoking areas, smokers may be more inclined to smoke there than next to buildings. Administrators should also be clear as to the consequences faculty, staff and students may face for violating the ban. If faculty and staff are exempt from disciplinary action, but students are still subject to punishment, the university should say so.

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