CC questions universal card access, plans vote

Before students ever heard a whisper of the idea that they might see a broad change in campus practice regarding universal card access to all dorms, administrators and student leaders had been busy shuffling around the possibility behind closed doors.

The idea first surfaced at a monthly meeting between Doug Schiazza, director of Campus Life, and the Neighborhood Governance Board (NGB) presidents. Schiazza said the presidents suggested the move as a possible response to students being fined for damages and bio-cleanups in their dorms that they did not cause. According to Schiazza, at the meeting’s conclusion the group had reached a consensus to allow students to vote on their own dorm’s card access: universal, limited or completely restricted.

According to Peter Nurnberg ’09, president of Dodd Neighborhood, however, the consensus at the meeting was only that students should be allowed to show ownership of their residential spaces by voting. “We agreed that allowing students to vote would be the best way to select a policy. We didn’t think that meeting was the end of the line,” he said. “We expected to hear back from the school before anything or any process was put in place.”

On Friday, Schiazza e-mailed Junior Advisors (JAs) and Baxter Fellows telling them about the plan to inform the student body of the vote on Monday and hold referendums in individual houses on Tuesday evening. “It was happening quickly,” he said. “We figured that if we got the word out on Monday, then it would be fresh in people’s minds on Tuesday, although maybe one day before was too close.”

CC co-president Morgan Goodwin ’08 said CC did not hear about the proposal until a short time before the emergency meeting Council was holding Sunday evening to draw up a response to Dean Merrill’s alcohol policy regarding JAs purchasing libations for their first-years.

According to Goodwin, Nurnberg, who is also secretary of CC, brought his concerns about the card access referendum to Goodwin. Nurnberg’s suggestion was to hold a preliminary all-campus referendum gauging whether students wished to make any change at all.

“I think it was a really obvious option to a lot of people,” Goodwin said.

Goodwin met with Schiazza on Monday morning to explain CC’s stance and suggest the implementation of this preliminary referendum. As outlined by Schiazza in an e-mail to Neighborhood leaders, CC presidents, campus life coordinators and members of the administration, the amended plan is for “Round One” of voting to begin next week. According to Goodwin, the preliminary round is slated to happen on the Internet by Nov. 9, and will ask all students to vote on whether or not they would like each house on campus to have the option to change the restrictions on its card access. If a majority of all voting students votes against a house vote on card access options, no further action will be taken and the campus will remain open to all students. However, if a majority votes for house votes on card access, “Round Two” will be planned, and in an in-person election at each house, each student present will vote whether or not to limit card-access to non-residents either during specified evening hours or all the time. All changes should be decided before Thanksgiving break.

In an all-campus e-mail sent yesterday afternoon, CC co-presidents Goodwin and Kim Dacres ’08 outlined an explanation of the initial issue at hand. “Some see this as a right to protect one’s own house from damages. Others see 24 hour access as a unique characteristic of our school which creates a strong sense of small-school community,” the e-mail stated. “Before any definite changes can be made, we as a campus have to decide on the issue: Should dorms have the option to allow limited card access?”

The discussion and resulting referendum are largely in response to recent events on campus involving damages and bio-cleanups that have had to be paid for by residents who were not responsible for them. One case that drew particular scrutiny occurred in Morgan, when four of the six students forced to pay for an Oct. 21 bio-cleanup were out of town when an individual vomited in the second-floor bathroom. Though Schiazza said that payments for damages and bio-cleanups will now be assigned to the entire house and rather than to halls or parts of dorms, student concerns about who pays for the cleanups have persisted.

“By definition these are things that residents would never do to their own space,” said Jon Prigoff ’08, president of Wood Neighborhood. “It’s tough because you know residents aren’t responsible, but you need to assign the blame for someone, and there’s no way to assign it to everyone.”

The option of limiting card access aims to give students more power to decide who enters their dorm.

“The administration’s policy is holding residents accountable for what happens in their dorm, and there is no way for residents to control what goes on in their dorms because anyone on campus can get in,” Prigoff said. “We thought it was important that residents should have a say.”

In the CC presidents’ e-mail, students were encouraged to attend tonight’s CC meeting to discuss the vote, and campus leaders are all curious to see what the student response will be.

“Is this taking ownership of space, or is it a reduction of liberty?” Schiazza said. “I don’t know, and I’m curious to see who speaks up.”

According to Goodwin, CC did a straw-pole vote on Sunday to see how many of the 20 council members present would vote to restrict card access either partially or fully, and only 2 said they would.

In fall 2003 the Record reported that after a slew of vandalism, Campus Safety and Security proposed restrictions on card access to dorms, but the student response was so vehemently against the idea that it was shelved indefinitely.

According to Schiazza, the issue resurfaced only because it was initiated by student leaders. “I was quite surprised that students were suggesting this,” he said.

Organizers are unsure how restrictions will be implemented if individual houses do vote to approve them. They do, however, know of one potential complication. According Jean Thorndike, director of Campus Safety and Security, due to the way the card-access system is set up, the hours of lockdown would have to be consistent among any dorms that opt for limited access. “The time frame has to be universal over all of those houses,” she said.

Another complication arises among dorms housing dining halls in addition to residential areas. If Dodd or Mission Park votes for entirely restricted access, the logistics are still undecided regarding how students would use the dining halls in both dorms and the walk-through of the latter, according to Schiazza. For Dodd, because the entrance to the dining hall abuts the staircase up to students’ rooms, structural changes may be necessary. In Mission, Schiazza mentioned the possibility of having card readers at the entrance to each of the four houses instead of at the main entrance, so that all students could enter the dining hall and use the building as a passage to the rest of campus. “We’d have to take some time to figure it out,” he said.

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