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Alex Biles: Dear President Coleman...

BY ALEX BILES

Published March 23, 2010

Dear President Mary Sue Coleman:

I can’t thank you enough. Your administration’s proposal to ban outdoor smoking on all three University campuses – Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint – effective July 2011, is truly a lifesaver. Your administration’s reason, according to the Smoke-Free University Initiative website, is that you are “trying to help people move toward healthy behaviors,” which will ultimately benefit everyone.

Your administration has also publicly stated numerous times that the ban has absolutely nothing to do with the negative effects associated with second-hand smoke, but rather to “promote a culture of health.”

You don’t know me — or barely any of the University students, faculty and staff that choose to smoke and that this ban would affect — personally. Your administration has refused to even consider so-called “common-sense” alternatives to a total ban like banning smoking in high traffic areas, the establishment of “smoking zones” or allowing the ban to be voted on by the University community. But all of your administration’s actions seem perfectly reasonable to me.

I have just a few recommendations to offer. If you’re correct – that is, if encouraging “healthy behaviors” such as the cessation of smoking will result in a benefit to everyone – then your proposal is far too modest.

Just think about it! Consumption of fast food, lack of exercise and unprotected sex are also unhealthy behaviors. What’s true for banning smoking will also hold true for these acts. If your administration and the Smoke-Free University Steering Committee, which is tasked with implementing the ban, are really serious about campus health then we students beg you to address these issues as well.

Like you said, encouraging a healthy environment will help us address our rising health care costs. First of all, the University should implement a ban on all fast food restaurants on campus to be consistent with a “culture of health.” That means no more Wendy’s, Pizza Hut, Panda Express or that evil Mrs. Fields. And we especially need to get rid of Taco Bell. We also must liberate ourselves from the soft drinks, popcorn, hot dogs and other unhealthy foods that plague Michigan football games and other sporting events. Remember, we need to put people ahead of all those corporate contracts the University makes so much money from – no matter what.

Additionally, there should be a limit on how much students can eat in the cafeteria. A “no seconds” rule must be implemented and the University must cease the production of desserts and chocolate chip cookies, even if that means firing the people who make the desserts in the cafeteria.

Lack of exercise is a major problem at campuses around the country as exemplified by the “freshman 15.” If the University wants students to unite in the name of campus health, they must mandate that all students, faculty and staff exercise for at least two hours and 30 minutes a week at one of the University’s recreational facilities, as the Centers for Disease Control recommends. A violation of this policy should result in a stiff penalty. Such a move would be incredibly beneficial to the University’s welfare and the true epitome of “moving people toward healthy behaviors.”

Finally, we must address the horrors of unprotected sex. The spread of sexually transmitted infections is a huge threat to our health. Like any consistent regulatory body, the administration needs to act in order to send a resounding message to the campus community. I pondered a variety of brilliant methods in which this could be accomplished, including a return to all single-gender residence halls or chastity belts that students must wear until graduation, whereupon they will be removed by you, President Coleman.

But I came upon an ingenious one. We can’t afford to risk the spread of STIs. Therefore, all sexual activity must be deterred. By requiring that anti-aphrodisiac chemicals be added to all beverages in dorm cafeterias, we can greatly reduce the chance of students engaging in sexual activity and consequently spreading STIs. This policy would promote a “culture of health” without any negative effects, just like government mandated water fluoridation.

For the benefit of all students, faculty and staff at the University, your administration must prove its commitment to developing a “culture of health” by going far and above a modest smoking ban. I don’t enjoy seeing people smoking in the Diag anymore than I enjoy seeing obese individuals walking out of the Michigan Union. It’s obvious that competent adults – many of whom pay to attend this school – aren’t responsible enough to make their own decisions. Clearly we need the University to make choices for us through coercion, even when they infringe on our individual rights to engage in a perfectly legal activity.

Yours Truly,

Alex Biles

Alex Biles can be reached at jabiles@umich.edu.