April 18, 2017

University Assembly Tables Tobacco-Free Campus Referendum Proposal

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The University Assembly voted on Tuesday to table Resolution 9, which calls for a campus-wide referendum on whether Cornell should launch an initiative to become a tobacco-free campus in two years.

The purpose of the referendum would be to gauge the campus climate on the issue, said Ulysses Smith, chair of the Employee Assembly and a member of the Campus Welfare Committee, who sponsored the resolution.

Members of the assembly tabled the resolution on Tuesday but may vote at their next meeting on whether or not to hold a referendum.

After the U.A. tasked a committee with investigating cigarette and tobacco use on campus at its meeting in September, the call for a referendum comes as an unusual next move to measure support for tobacco-free policies before planning how to implement those changes.

“We really are not in the business of passing things based on what the administration believes or wants all the time,” he said. “If this is the will of the campus, it is the will of the campus, which is why we are actually conducting the referendum to actually see what happens and what that outcome is.”

Ulysses Smith speaks at the University Assembly meeting Tuesday. Smith, chair of the Employee Assembly and a member of the Campus Welfare Committee, sponsored the resolution that would launch a process to make Cornell a tobacco-free campus in two years.

Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

Ulysses Smith speaks at the University Assembly meeting Tuesday. Smith, chair of the Employee Assembly and a member of the Campus Welfare Committee, sponsored the resolution that would launch a process to make Cornell a tobacco-free campus in two years.

Office of the Assemblies Director Gina Giambattista said the University Assembly is breaking from other colleges, which often make the decision at the administration level, rather than posing the question to students and members of the Cornell community.

“We’re the only university that’s done it this way,” she said, referring to the referendum process. “It has always come from the top down. So that’s partly why we’ve decided to approach it this way was to get a sense of what do people here want. It’s a very different process from the president saying, ‘we are now doing this.’”

Smith said the committee initially planned to flesh out what it would take for Cornell to become a tobacco-free campus but later concluded that it made more sense to first see if the referendum would pass.

“Right now, we are not specifying what that process would look like because we are not sure whether or not the campus wants to do that,” he said.

The resolution calls for a two-year planning period but forgoes listing the specifics of the process.

Some U.A. members raised concerns that the referendum would be too simple and fail to capture the diversity of opinions on campus.

“One of the things we want to do … is to give options,” said Kevin Fitch, Employee Assembly representative and vice chair for internal operations. “When we have this referendum, we should give more than just one question, yes or no …  [otherwise] we’re wasting an amount of time to get more information.”

Kevin Fitch, Employee Assembly representative and vice chair for internal operations, discusses the tobacco-free campus referendum proposal at the University Assembly meeting Tuesday.

Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

Kevin Fitch, Employee Assembly representative and vice chair for internal operations, discusses the tobacco-free campus referendum proposal at the University Assembly meeting Tuesday.

Smith responded that a referendum, by definition, can only ask a yes or no question and would be the best way to understand the general campus sentiment surrounding the issue, noting that there is currently no data on tobacco use on campus.

“People are going to feel some type of way about this institution going very deeply into their personal lives,” Smith said. “However, I don’t think that should be a barrier for us asking a question because people might surprise us.”

U.A. Chair Gabriel Kaufman ’18 said there were many ways Cornell could act on the results of the referendum, such as becoming only partially tobacco-free.

“This question, whether or not we should go tobacco-free, assumes the most ultimate scenario where Cornell becomes tobacco-free, whereas there are intermediate things Cornell could do that people might have a more favorable impression of,” he said.

University Assembly Chair Gabriel Kaufman ’18 speaks at the assembly meeting Tuesday.

Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

University Assembly Chair Gabriel Kaufman ’18 speaks at the assembly meeting Tuesday.

The Tompkins County Legislature on Tuesday evening held a public hearing — but did not vote — on a proposed resolution that would raise the age of who can purchase cigarettes and other tobacco products in the county from 18 to 21. Legislators plan to vote on the resolution at their next meeting.

The results of the Cornell referendum would include a breakdown of how different groups of constituents voted, allowing for increased analysis of the data.

“They are Net ID-authenticated, so there is nothing anonymous about [the] response, but we would typically only do it by the constituencies represented by the assemblies unless there was some other direction,” Giambattista said.

The resolution also includes a stipulation that University leadership will honor the results of the referendum.

“We really wanted to make sure that regardless of the outcome of the referendum that the decision was honored,” Smith said.

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