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We Get To Say You Can’t, But That’s Not Going To Impede Your Doing So

July 28, 2010

I came across this nugget the other day.  Vanderbilt has new rules governing where you can and can’t smoke on campus:

There will be fewer places to smoke on campus starting Aug. 1 when a new smoking policy for the university will take effect. Smoking on the academic campus will now be limited to outdoor sites that will have signs that read “designated smoking area” and cigarette urns for disposal.

While smoking is not permitted in any university building, there were previously no restrictions on smoking outside on the academic campus. Under the new policy, smoking is now prohibited outside except in the designated smoking areas. The new policy is a change for the academic campus only. Smoking is already limited on the medical center campus to outdoor locations along that campus’ perimeter.

Ha ha ha ha ha.  Having laughed about this, fumed about it, and looked at this from several angles, I’ve concluded that it’s a simple recruiting pitch.

Firstly, exactly whom is benefiting from the rule?  Secondhand smoke isn’t a problem outside unless you happen to be hanging out in a small, windless area where there’s a whole bunch of people smoking cigarettes.  Does that sound like a “designated smoking area” to you?  Has Vanderbilt just created the problem of outdoor secondhand smoke?

Secondly, just how in the hell do they plan on enforcing this?  Presumably, the cops are going to be the guys that tell you to put out your cigarette if you’re not in a DSA.  If you take a glance at the map, however, you’ll notice that not one single fraternity house is a DSA.  Are the cops going to go through a party on Friday night and ticket every single person who’s smoking a cigarette at the frat house?  College campuses aren’t office buildings — there are a lot of events that feature large crowds, and running a bunch of police officers through parties in order to crack down on cigarette smoking isn’t a very good sell for your institution of higher learning.

So what’s going to happen?  Well, quite obviously, the cops are just not going to enforce the smoking ban.  The university administration will throw it up on their website and make sure all prospective students know about it, and it’ll be sure to reassure their parents that their precious child isn’t going to be forced to walk to class next to another student who’s smoking one of those cancer sticks.  But when push comes to shove, nothing will actually be done about it.  The school just wants to project the image that they’re very interested in their students’ health without ruffling any real feathers about it.  “Yes, we don’t let kids inhale secondhand smoke, but we don’t kill social functions either!  We’re the best of both worlds!”

So what am I complaining about, you ask?  If the rule is strictly nominal, why get your panties in a wad?  Because I think it’s ridiculous that administrations enact laws that they quite literally have zero plans to enforce.  What’s the difference, in the school’s bylaws, between a law that is enforced and one that’s not?  Is there some kind of special section for so-called laws that the university gets to say it has but does nothing about?  Or is it just picking and choosing which laws it wants to impose?  Do the rules really mean anything?  If you found out, as a parent, that a university’s rule against drinking aren’t really enforced because the cops have no real definition of what constitutes a drinking game, would you feel that the school lied to you about what its rules are?  If you realized halfway into your daughter’s college career that the university wasn’t really checking the IDs of everybody who entered its dorm rooms after 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights because they didn’t want to pay all the security guards to do that, would you feel that the rules meant anything?

But, to bring it full circle, this is simply a recruiting tactic for the school, like the two aforementioned (hypothetical) scenarios were.  I guess the admissions office is benefiting from this smoking ban, but I can’t think of anybody else who is.

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