St Hugh’s fines cross the line

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A series of fines amounting to over £2000 issued by St Hugh’s has provoked outrage among many members of the JCR.

The fines have been collected by the college authorities for rule infringements this term involving smoking indoors, bringing guests into college, theft, having vomit in a bin, and vandalism of college property.
In Freshers’ Week, two first year students were fined £150 each and banned from the college bar for a term for urinating in a bush.

Later in the week, the college imposed further punishment after finding out that police had issued a caution to the same two students for what was described by one St Hugh’s fresher, who wished to remain anonymous, as “horsing around with some bikes in town.”

The offenders were issued with a further £300 fine, a year-long ban from the college bar and the threat of immediate rustication for any future offence.

The eventual punishment came after over two and a half weeks of meetings. The issue was referred from the Dean to the Disciplinary Committee and finally the Junior Proctor, who allegedly called the offenders “idiots” and “arseholes”, and told them that they did not deserve to be at the University.

This was one of several incidents incurring fines that were recounted to Cherwell, most of which have happened since third week. They concern largely, but not exclusively, members of the first year. Most of our sources wished to remain anonymous for fear of recriminations within St Hugh’s.

In another incident, two freshers were fined £100 each for stealing signs from Wadham, which were returned to the college within an hour.

One of the students was fined a further £100 for vandalising his staircase. This involved depositing seven slices of mouldy bread in front of a friend’s door, leaving cigarette butts lying around and creating a mess on his own door that he cleaned up the next morning.

A second year student was fined £200 for smoking in her room and playing music at 10.50pm, when neither of her neighbours were present. “I was hardly creating a ‘noise disturbance’ to other members of the college,” she told Cherwell.

There were also reports of group activities, such as conversations and watching films, being stopped by members of the decanal team.

Many within the college feel that the measures have been too strict, with one first year student saying “we feel our own independence is being infringed upon.”

One of those who have been fined told the Cherwell that he believed such punishments to be “highly disproportionate”.

He said that he resented above all the lack of “room for discussion” over the punishments. “Any response given to the dean was considered an act of rudeness.

“At times I was simply accused of things that were not the case, and
when I tried, as politely as I could, discuss this with him, I was shouted at,” he added.

Others have felt that there is a behavioural problem in St Hugh’s this year – with incidents such as windows being smashed – and that all punishments were administered in line with college rules.

“I don’t feel any of the fines have been arbitrarily dished out and all have been perfectly justified,” said one third-year student.

“Those first years that have committed serial offences need to get a life and realise that all this does is give their year a bad reputation.”

An email titled “Advice from the Dean” sent to all members of the JCR by First-Year Rep Tom Meacher warned, among other things, of the implications of breaking the law by smoking indoors.

“I must warn you that the dean takes this extremely seriously,” Meacher wrote, “as, if a member of the college staff complains (for example a scout who cleans your room) through their trade union, the college would not have a leg to stand on in court and would be liable for a fine in the tens of thousands of pounds.”

Sebastian Stain, one of the Junior Deans, told Cherwell that the college regulations have not changed since last year and that he felt that the increase in decanal activity was due to “the behaviour of some people in the first year.”

“The measures are completely appropriate,” he said. “Everything is in line with the college and university regulations.”

The “dramatic increase in decanal activity” was raised in a JCR meeting on 7 November by second-year students Annie MacIver and Shanna Martens. In their proposal they expressed concern that the punishments were having “an entirely adverse effect” and had “increased hostility to the decanal team”.

The motion noted that the decanal team does “a valuable and essential job,” but also declared that “students have the capacity and maturity to be aware of each other.”

It continued, “we believe it is unnecessary to discipline students for activities that can be shown to not inconvenience others, for example listening to music or watching TV late at night, having ensured that neighbouring students are not working or sleeping.”

The motion advocated writing a letter to the Dean “detailing [the JCR’s] concern” and asking for a reconsideration of the “current approach, perhaps returning to a similar attitude as last year that worked well.”
The proposal passed, with a friendly amendment allowing all members of the JCR to see the letter before it was sent.

If the letter did not produce the desired response, and “fines and repression continue,” the motion said that the JCR will consider other solutions, such as asking OUSU to “investigate perceived abuse of the disciplinary system.”

When contacted by Cherwell, the Dean refused to comment.

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