Transparency over tobacco ban is essential

Royal Purple Staff Opinion

Nov. 3, 2015

Student demonstrators gathered outside the University Center last week, calling for the preservation of shared governance, holding protest signs and pretending to smoke pretzels.

Which leads the average observer to ask themselves, “why are these people smoking pretzels?”

According to an event page on Facebook created by the protestors, the demonstration was a reaction to Chancellor Beverly Kopper’s alleged signing of a ban that would prohibit the use of tobacco products on campus.

The page claims that she did so “without asking that the shared governance groups, including Whitewater Student Government,  take a vote on it.”

Hence the smoking of pretzels in protest.

Before we resort to the combustion of sodium-enriched snacks, we at the Royal Purple feel there should be more transparency with regards to the smoking ban – both on the side of the chancellor and the protesting groups.

It seems apparent the demonstration and frustration on the side of the protestors has more to do with the neglecting of student voice and shared governance than the right to smoke on campus, so it would benefit the group to clearly state its stance on the issue. At the end of the day, is this about the right to smoke on campus? Or, is this about how the Chancellor went about signing the ban without going to students first?

If the answer is the latter, perhaps smoking pretzel stogies in effigy (in a strange form of civil disobedience) isn’t the right direction to go for demonstrations and protests. If this is about a violation of shared governance, then that stance should be clearly stated and should not be confused or detracted from by mass-smoking demonstrations.

That’s not to say that we at the Royal Purple have a problem with smoking snack foods (what you do on your own time is none of our business), but pretending to smoke pretzels is a strange symbol to express your violated rights – one that might not be taken seriously.

The call for transparency isn’t limited to protestors, however. Chancellor Kopper and her cabinet should clearly articulate what this tobacco ban will look like, and also why shared governance groups feel their voice is not being heard. 

A Tobacco Task Force made up of representatives from WSG, Faculty Senate, Academic Staff Assembly and University Staff Council recommended that UW-Whitewater adopt a tobacco free campus back in 2014, but WSG never passed the recommendation.

Now in 2015 we’re left asking, “why was this recommendation still signed by the chancellor despite being rejected by WSG?”

In an effort to alleviate confusion, the chancellor has asked the Tobacco Task Force to “circle back” to the governance groups, “share results of their work,” and get “feedback regarding the latest report and recommendations.” The results of the “circle back” and whether or not its feedback will have any effect on the outcome of the smoking ban has yet to be seen.

The “circle back” is a step in the right direction, albeit after the fact. Will this become a standard practice? To neglect student voice outright, and then go back to get their opinions on the issue? If this is the case, then the outlook for shared governance on our campus appears bleak.

And what if the “circle back” finds that the shared governance groups do not support the ban? Will it be retracted?

The chancellor must also be clear with how this ban will look, be implemented and enforced. If the campus is actually going to be 100 percent tobacco-free, then someone will have to be in charge of removing wads of chewing tobacco, cigarettes and vape pens from student mouths, and that’s a campus job that’s worth a little bit more than minimum wage.