Merton disciplinary measure declared unconstitutional

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The Merton decanal team has come under fire over an amendment to its disciplinary measures.

The amendment comes in response to what the College perceives as an increase in the number of students smoking in their rooms.

An email sent on Tuesday from Merton’s Deputy Principal of the Postmasters (Junior Dean) to all JCR and MCR members stated, “The College takes this matter very seriously because smoking creates a fire hazard and a health hazard, for you and also for all the people living in the building.

“Owing to this increasing number, we have decided to be extra vigilant to this matter, and also to change the discipline measures; a smoking offence will now attract on top of the fine a four week ban to the college bar and the next bop, and on repeat offences can lead to students not being offered college accommodation in the future.”

According to some students, this change to the disciplinary measures runs contrary to regulations set out in the College handbook.

Particular
objections were raised at the fact that the JCR and MCR presidents had not been consulted in advance. Article 26.2 of the handbook states, “Any proposed amendments will be discussed with the Presidents of the JCR and MCR and reviewed and approved by Warden and Tutors’ Committee and Graduate Committee.” 

In addition, article 28.7 of the handbook states that suspension from college premises and facilities “is a precautionary and not a disciplinary sanction, and may continue during the investigation of any such allegation and any subsequent disciplinary proceedings”.

One student, who wanted to remain anonymous, told Cherwell, “Clearly they are trying to use it in a disciplinary way. We also dispute that a bop is a college facility. It’s a JCR-run event, the only way they could justify that move would be by banning people from use of the Sports Pavilion [where Merton bops are held] at all times.” 

Jonathan Thacker, Senior Dean at Merton, said, “Smoking in rooms is an issue that the college takes very seriously as it is a fire hazard. The measure reflects the increase of such events being discovered in college rooms this year, and it is based on a course of action which has proven effective in the past in various discipline contexts. 

“It is not, however, a suspension from college, as described by paragraph 28.7, it is a restriction to the use of college facilities which is covered by 28.3, ‘The Principal of Postmasters and the Deputy Principal of Postmasters are empowered to impose fines up to and including £250 and to restrict access to College facilities.’”

Daniel Schwennicke, Merton’s JCR President, commented, “I was surprised by the increased penalty on smoking in College accommodation, as I had expected that the JCR would be consulted about the problem in advance. While smoking indoors is completely unacceptable, the College’s decision is disproportionate and unprecedented. Additionally, there are substantial doubts about its legitimacy with respect to College regulations, any amendment of which must be discussed with the JCR and MCR Presidents and approved by several College committees. The JCR intends to fight restricting offenders from the college bar and bops, and a first meeting with the Principal of Postmasters has indicated that our concerns will be heard.” 

Chris Pike, OUSU VP for Welfare & Equal Opportunities, said, “As a student union we believe in the fundamental principle that students and their representatives (in this case, their elected common room officers) should be consulted on any changes of this nature.

“I have no issue with action being taken to prevent students smoking in their roomsIt is, however, often the case in scenarios like this that proper discussion between students and the college will solve more problems than simply using threats of harsh disciplinary action.”

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