• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.



A regular correspondent stumped me with this one. Has your campus found a solution to smoking?

December 9, 2009

A regular correspondent stumped me with this one. Has your campus found a solution to smoking?

With record enrollments, my college has cigarette butts all over the grounds. There's a strong no-smoking policy inside the buildings, and so far, that hasn't really been an issue. Even the bathrooms have been remarkably smoke-free. The outdoors is another story. Smokers are supposed to stand x number of feet away from entrances, but in practice, they seem to interpret that part of the policy as advisory. That can mean that those of us who don't smoke (hi!) get to fight our way through a cloud of carcinogens to enter a building.

I'll admit that times have changed. Back in the 70's, when I was in elementary school, the public high school in my town had a smokers' lounge that was open to students. By the time I reached high school, that was gone. At SLAC, smoking was relatively rare; I think the class connotations were too powerful. (Back then, a common slur directed at community colleges was that they were "high school with ashtrays.") At Flagship State, it was common to see people smoke outside, but I don't remember it getting terribly out of control. The same held at Proprietary U, where smokers routinely went outside, but I don't recall any major issues either way.

Now, though, the non-smokers are getting a little testier, and the smokers somewhat less careful about cleaning up after themselves. I'm not sure which came first, but I've seen the two sides dig in their heels a bit over the last few years. (I recently heard "liberal" defined as "someone who wants to ban smoking and legalize pot." Not exactly right, but recognizable...)

One of the proposals floating around is a total ban on smoking on the entire campus. I can see the appeal, and if I thought it would work, I'd probably support it. But I can't imagine it really working. It's one thing to ask a smoker to step outside; it's quite another to ask her to just hang tight for the next several hours. I'd be concerned that someone in need of a nicotine fix would just go wherever was the most convenient.

(Full disclosure: I had a girlfriend in grad school who smoked off and on. During her attempts to quit, she morphed into She-Ra the Avenger. "I'm making some coffee. Would you like some?" "I'LL RIP YOUR HEART OUT AND SHOW IT TO YOU BEFORE YOU DIE!" "So, was that a yes or a no?" Ever since, I've had a healthy respect for nicotine fits.)

A few enterprising sorts have proposed setting aside designated smoking areas with little roofs, like bus stops. That one doesn't really sit right with me, either. It's one thing to look the other way while you spew that crap into the air, but now I'm supposed to subsidize it? I don't think so. Besides, in these parts, the winter months tend to get a bit nippy. Even if the smokers were good sports in September, I don't see them sticking to the plan in February.

It's fine to support smoking cessation programs for both employees and students, but by definition, those only reach the folks who are inclined to quit anyway. The problem is the conflict between the folks who just have to puff away on a regular basis, and those of us who'd rather not breathe carcinogenic air or step on the butts.

Wise and worldly readers, I'm hoping someone has seen this done right. Have you seen it?


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