Investigation: Fines and punishment in Oxford

C+’s exploration of where money from fines is spent is here, whilst an anoymous student explains what it’s like to be on the wrong end of an unfair fine here, Jessica Hao speaks to various JCR Reps about the issue here, and we take a close look at some of the rule-books which govern our student lives here

A C+ investigation into the use of fines and other punishments by the University of Oxford and its constituent colleges has discovered that over the past three academic years, some colleges have fined their student bodies more than £10,000.

C+ can also reveal that there have been only three cases of students being banned from University property in the past three years, and that, “In two cases, the student was suspended because they were under Police investigation for possible criminal behaviour towards another member of the University. In the other case, the student was suspended because they were suspected of financial dishonesty towards the University.”

The central University authorities have taken £7,040 in non-library fines over the last three years. The University has also made an eye-opening £165,688 in Bodleian Library fines over the two academic years 2011-2012 and 2012-2013.

A C+ survey has also shown that, based on over 200 respondents, 31% of Oxford students have been subject to financial punishment from either their college or the University, with offences ranging from late submission of room inventory forms to trashing and illegal filesharing all causing monetary pain.

The colleges that have fined their students the most over the past three academic years are Exeter and St. Hugh’s. The former has recouped £19,156, £7,728 of which is made up of library fines. Exeter’s primary issues, however, seem to be late payment of battels, with over £10,000 of their overall fines traceable to delayed student payments. St. Hugh’s have obtained £16,497 of their students’ money in fines over the same period, although notably, the St. Margaret’s Road college only began to charge fines in relation to their library in 2011.

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St. Hilda’s too have made over £10,000 from student indiscipline, with a total of £12,792 being taken in fines.

Notably, at Pembroke, forgetting to sign a guest into the college is subject to a £40 fine, although the College note, “Students can sign-in guests in person at the lodge or by e-mail”. Pembroke also operate a system of suspended fining, where “urinating in public or on College grounds” was subject to a £80 suspended penalty, whilst “tampering with fire-safety equipment” garnered a £250 punishment with an additional £250 suspended.

In recent years at Wadham, offences have included breaches of “noise and party regulations” amounting to £210 across seven separate infractions and “fire safety regulations” amounting to £100; “misuse of domestic facilities” which garnered a £30 fine; and a £20 fine for “damage to property”. Wadham are, however, one of several colleges not to charge fines for overdue library books.

Graduate colleges Linacre and St. Cross both reported £250 worth of fines levied by Oxford University Computer Services for responding to cease and desist letters for file-sharing.

Several colleges do not use fines as a decanal sanction at all, with St. Anne’s, Worcester, Jesus, and Nuffield all preferring to use other systems such as community service around college. A Worcester undergraduate related this to the pleasant state of the college’s grounds, saying, “Worcester doesn’t really do fines, the Dean prefers to give out ‘community service’ style gardening tasks. It’s why the main quad lawn is so good.”

Several respondents agreed with this idea, arguing, “Fines are often extortionate and there are much fairer punishments which do not favour those with more financial stability such as community service” and “Fines disadvantage some pupils more than others, and are thus not a fair punishment, particularly when a blanket fine is given to a group.”

On the other hand, another anonymous respondent felt outrage over fines was misplaced, saying that, “Fines should be stricter. Any claims that students cannot afford them are generally wrong considering how much ‘poor’ students spend on alcohol.”

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An Oxford University spokesperson defended the use of fines by the University, saying, “A fine is one possible penalty in cases of misconduct. Penalties are only imposed after a disciplinary investigation and a disciplinary hearing and may include an order to pay compensation to any person or body suffering injury, damage or loss as a result of the misconduct. The disciplinary procedures include provision for appeals procedures.”

Graphics have been updated in light of new information received after Cherwell went to print, whilst Exeter College would like us to note that the figure for Exeter College is made up of ‘Administration Fees’ in response to late payment of battels, and the College do not consider this a disciplinary sanction.