Strangely, the scholars who run Memorial University chose the midst of its Havin’ A Time reunion to publicly brag it has moved another step closer to becoming totally smoke-free.
MUN’s administrators can make such a self-congratulatory boast because, as experience has shown, the majority of students and faculty will sheepishly cheer their wise and beneficent edicts to make the world a healthier, cleaner place devoid of hateful habits and discarded butts.
Count me as one alumnus (Class of ’95) who is ashamed of, appalled by and aghast at the hypocrisy, bullying and irrationality of MUN’s impending total smoking ban, set to fully arrive next year.
It is tempting to lament MUN’s decline, except that banning smoking on campuses has reached epidemic proportions at universities high and low, including even the august Harvard University.
Post-secondary administrators are hopelessly addicted to banning cigarettes.
Perhaps researchers in the faculty of science can invent a new kind of patch — administrators could stick it on an arm, providing themselves with a daily fix of micromanaging other people’s lives without their actually having to do so.
It falls to the alumni to point out to students, faculty and administrators how petty and petulant their policies have become.
Let’s start with this: you are degrading the very concept of the university as a bastion and defender of free thought.
I’ve written about this issue before.
Each time, I am amazed anew at the angry and frothy responses from students and faculty alike, condescending and arrogant in their ability to utterly miss the point.
Predictably, administrators couch their authoritarian actions as a health issue, and their cheerleaders in the classrooms and dormitories accept this explanation without even turning to the glossary to look up “freedom of choice.”
It is not in any way a health issue. It is a zealotry issue. It is, “Do as I say, because your habit disgusts me.”
Cancer is not the issue. Addiction is not the issue. Second-hand smoke is not the issue. Lying, manipulative profiteers in the tobacco industry are not the issue.
The issue is freedom of choice, and the right of adults to determine and take responsibility for their own decisions and their own actions.
“But smoking is unhealthy.” Irrelevant. You get an F.
“But cigarettes are dirty and stinky.” Moot point. You get an F.
“But second-hand smoke will kill me.” Zealotry. You get an F and academic probation.
Let’s update the old 20th-century cliché about putting men on the moon; in the 21st century, they can put a robot on Mars, but they apparently can’t construct a smoking room that won’t poison innocent passersby.
What kind of engineers are they educating these days, anyway?
A few separate air ducts should do the trick.
Then post a sign over the door: “All ye who revile smoking, abandon this place.”
The cultural battle was won a generation ago.
Many professors are of an age that they can remember — to the shock of today’s students — an era when teenagers were allowed to smoke in high school cafeterias. Most graduate students are likely too young to recall a time when smoking in the workplace was allowed, and common.
Those days are, quite rightly, long gone.
But zealotry remains. MUN administrators say they will rely on the “university community” to enforce the new total smoking ban when it comes into effect. It will be a campus of spies and snitches. Images of the former East Germany come to mind. MUN should ditch its motto, “Become,” and adopt “Report your neighbour.”
It’s reunion time. Let’s pour a drink, and toast our alma mater. Or has MUN gone dry?
Brian Jones is a nonsmoking desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.