Although Student Senators expected a landslide “No” vote on a referendum to eliminate smoking at USM during last week’s elections, they were surprised by a very close count.
“I mean, we figured it would fail. We knew it would be unpopular but I’m surprised that it’s not as unpopular as we expected. I figured it would have been completely destroyed. But it was pretty darn close,” Justin LaBerge, commuter senator said.
Student officials said this referendum was included to get a sample of how students feel about a smoke-free campus. The final decision must be made by Richard Pattenaude, president of USM. He will make his decision based on the result of the referendum and from feedback he got from students, faculty and staff at smoking forums held last week. He will announce his decision at the end of the semester.
The proposal states “Smoking is prohibited on all campus grounds, including walkways, athletic fields, lawn areas, parking lots and playgrounds. . Specifically, smoking is prohibited in all facilities owned, leased or rented by USM.”
However, the Senate was surprised by the referendum results, which showed that 59.8 percent voted no and 40.2 percent approved a smoke-free campus, a percentage much higher than anticipated, said LaBerge.
“At our meeting we were all riled up because we got the feeling they [the administration] were trying to mandate people to quit smoking and were moving forward without student input,” said Senate Chair Marcy Muller. “To us it was pretty evident administration was going through with the plan.”
Muller was disappointed the Tobacco Task Force did not try harder to get students involved when the task force was originally formed and that it still doesn’t have students on the committee.
“At first I was reluctant to put it on the ballot because I thought it would fail miserably and the university would still vote to do it. And I was afraid that would disenchant the members in the community. But then I thought if that did happen and people were disenchanted that would ruffle some feathers and get people reacting,” LaBerge said.
But, while senators were upset the task force did not seek student input, members of the task force said they were disappointed that they were not informed by the senators that the question had been included on the ballot.
“Unfortunately the Student Senate didn’t let us know they were putting it on the referendum,” said Pamela Clay-Storm, professional nurse at University Health Services. “I’m happy they’re seeking support from students, but the negative part is that we couldn’t get involved because we weren’t given a heads-up.”
The task force also felt students should have been given more information about the referendum when they voted.
“I don’t even know if they were clear if it was a definitive vote,” Clay-Storm said.
The way the referendum was worded made it seem like it was a deciding vote, like it was a policy rather than proposal. It lacked clarification of what the vote was actually for, Clay-Storm said.
Although she was dismayed at how the referendum was handled she was surprised with the outcome.
“I am shocked with the results. I didn’t expect that. It’s amazing. I think it goes to show that we’re a large community that has different beliefs and that it’s not OK to assume what people are thinking,” Clay-Storm said.
The task force is struggling to get student input, Clay-Storm said. The group advertised the meeting times and places of the three forums held last week. But there were no students at the USM forums and only about four attended the Lewiston-Auburn campus.
“We are having a hard time getting students to participate,” Clay-Storm said.
“Ultimately a smoke-free campus is our goal, yes. But we recognize this may not be next year or the year after that or even the next year after that. What we have now is a proposal to reach that. It is a proposal to gain input and feedback. We’re trying to get a broader opinion of what everyone wants,” Clay-Storm said.
As part of creating a healthier lifestyle, the university has already decided to make all residence halls smoke-free beginning in the fall semester.
News Editor Sherry Whittemore can be contacted at: [email protected]