While everyone was cramming for Midterms, ESC passed legislation to put a campus ban on smoking. Multiple perspectives were considered, but ultimately, response to a survey swayed the council. Finn Klauber takes you through this important moment in Columbia Engineering student government history.
In the most exciting meeting so far of the 2016 Engineering Student Council, members of ESC debated at length the merits and downfalls of a proposed “Smoking Resolution”—formally named “A Resolution to Share CC/SEAS Student Opinion on Smoking in the Hopes of Reducing Smoking Prevalence and Policy Non-Compliance on the Morningside Heights Campus”. This resolution, which easily passed with a majority of 19 affirmative votes out of 26 total votes, outlines and provides almost carte blanche authorization to attempt various methods towards securing inroads in the enforcement of current Columbia smoking policies, creating stricter smoking policies, and advocating for a total smoking ban on Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus.
I must first note one point, however, before elaborating on the legislation presented by VP of Policy Sidney Perkins, SEAS ’17. A conflict of parliamentary procedure arose in the moments preceding the vote when Class of 2017 Representative Harry Munroe moved to divide the question. This motion, if allowed further elaboration, would either have separated the four clauses of the resolution to be voted upon separately, or would specifically have divided out the third and fourth clauses to be voted upon separately from clauses one and two. Practically, this means any concerns ESC members might have had with specific clauses could be fleshed out and debated, with ESC perhaps throwing out a more contentious clause. However, VP Perkins referenced a modified Rules of Order outlined in the ESC constitution which permits him to rule such motions as out of order.
As Perkins explained, Munroe would have to present a second piece of legislation to ESC in the following meetings to accomplish the aims of Munroe’s initial motion to divide the question. While Bwog does not question VP Perkins’ purview over ruling friendly amendments out of order, we do question whether it was in his power as either VP of Policy or as the resolution proposer (which, if such power is allowed to the VP of Policy when his or her own proposal is on the floor, could arguably create a significant conflict of interest) to overrule a motion to divide the question. Importantly, as the ESC website hosting the Council’s constitution has been out of order since last week, no version of the ESC constitution is available to the public. As ESC is scheduled to technically ratify an already-written and updated constitution next week, no version of the ESC constitution, old or new, was available to Bwog at the time of publishing. In terms of the conflict of procedure, then, we cannot affirmatively confirm or deny accidental wrongdoing on the part of ESC in carrying out the Smoking Resolution vote.
With this being said, VP Perkins contextualized his resolution in terms of a “huge debate in the 2017 [Facebook] page about smoking on campus”. Although Perkins admitted that the various Columbia undergraduate councils have outlined positions in the past, generally determining the overall conflict to be out of their policy purview, Perkins and ESC deemed it wrong to not address the issue as “there was interest in it”. Newly elected University Senator Izzet Kebudi, SEAS ’19, offered the main opposition to the resolution, concerned that a smoking ban would inordinately affect the lives of undergraduate international students, who, he said, generally “smoke more”. He offered that specifically advocating for greater enforcement of the designated campus smoking zones would prevent any portion of the student body from feeling alienated from campus. Unfortunately, ESC ignored his arguments, for the most part, instead focusing upon questions surrounding authority, enforcement, and smoking policy models (à la Barnard’s campus smoking ban).
Multiple council members raised questions of what authority they would be empowering, including 2017 Class Representative Ojas Sathe, ESC President Neha Jain, SEAS ’17, and 2019 Class Representative Asher Goldfinger. Perkins clarified throughout that any future policy, recognizing the ineffectiveness of student enforcement, would aim to empower both students and public safety, specified what exactly the 20 feet smoking prohibition outside residence halls referred to, and deferred to the current (unfollowed) disciplinary punishments as the main negative incentive for ignoring future smoking regulations. VP of Student Life Piyushi Bishnoi, SEAS ’17, did manage to raise an inadequately answered point regarding the extension of such regulations to individuals unaffiliated with the university who nevertheless smoke on the Morningside Heights campus. VP Bishnoi then responded to VP Perkins’ appeal to Barnard’s success with a smoking ban by noting how much smaller and more enclosed Barnard’s campus is compared to Columbia’s campus. Perkins claimed that such issues would need to be discussed with Public Safety, but that ESC should vote in affirmation before reaching out to the department.
Some members of ESC, however, ignored any subtleties and pressed for a concrete ban on all smoking. Class of 2018 President Aakanxit Khullar claimed he supported a complete ban, seemingly out of compassion for those who smoke. Enforcing current regulations, he stated, would “create more problems for people smoking two feet away [technically outside the designated zone] from an ash tray getting disciplinary action.” Forcing students to smoke off campus, he continued, would be easier for those who smoke, those who have respiratory problems, and those who are inordinately effected by designated smoking areas—specifically residents of non-air conditioned Hartley who allegedly find fumes wafting through their open windows. President Khullar later reinforced his opinion, recalling a “no smoking” sign within distance of Lerner that everybody ignores. Khullar nonspecifically referred to this as “kind of disgusting”.
The content of the resolution itself (attached to this article, along with the survey data received from VP Perkins) can be distilled into its four operative clauses. First, the smoking survey data is publicly available to any individual, administrator, or participant who requests the survey results. Second, ESC will advocate for stronger enforcement of smoking policy to members of administration in Campus Services. Third, ESC will not only advocate for stronger enforcement of smoking policy, as previously described, independently in the University Senate, but will also in the Senate advocate for a campus-wide smoking ban. Finally, ESC will allocate at most $300.00 towards studies and initiatives measuring changes in air quality of different campus spots—presumably if enforcement and/or a ban succeeds with the administration. Practically, this not only authorizes ESC members to pursue a “democratic” route to press for enforced smoking regulations which will greatly affect faculty, service workers, graduate students, random passer-byes, and, yes, undergraduate students, but it simultaneously pushes for a direct administrative route—either purposefully or accidentally ignoring the concerns of any other elected student body at Columbia University.
Whether this resolution will be altered retrospectively with a new introduction of legislature next week, as VP Perkins allowed to Representative Munroe, remains to be seen.
Photo Courtesy of FX’s American Horror Story: Coven