Ave Maria University, which opened in 2005 near Naples, Florida, was founded as a private university meant to uphold Catholic values. One of the rules for its dorms reads, “inappropriate displays of affection, such as lying together on couches, will not be tolerated.” The Ave Maria even planned to ban condoms and birth control in the town built around it. Luckily, these kinds of restrictions wouldn’t take place at the public University of Michigan.

Well, on July 5, 2011, they will. That is the day on which the University plans to ban smoking on all University property, including outdoors. With the Apr. 21 announcement of the ban, the University has overstepped its obligation to protect the health of its students and employees. Instead, it has become more like Ave Maria, creating rules that reflect a single point of view — one that the University considers valid but is oppressive to those who oppose it.

In its press release, the University states that the ban is meant to “help reduce the risks of secondhand smoke and ensure a healthier environment for faculty, staff and students.” This goal is certainly admirable since secondhand smoke has been shown to be dangerous to the health of those who inhale it. But exposure to secondhand smoke outdoors is insignificant. Outside, smokers come into close contact with other people much less and any smoke produced disperses quickly in the open air.

While the rule was made with good intentions, in the end it is oppressive to the smokers it affects. Through a complete ban on smoking, the University is attempting to forcefully prevent people from smoking by limiting access to locations in which smoking is permitted.

The Daily asked Dr. Robert Winfield, director of the University Health Service, and co-chair of the committee designated to implement the ban, if he would consider placing incoming students who smoke in dorms where they could get off-campus more quickly to smoke. Winfield responded that he hadn’t thought of the idea. He then added, “Personally, I don’t want to enable people to smoke.” Winfield claimed the opposite in the University’s press release, saying that the ban is “intent upon trying to be respectful of individuals who choose to smoke.” This doesn’t seem to be the case. It seems more like Winfield is ignoring their decision to smoke and making a blanket rule that they’re not supposed to.

No group of people, including smokers, should ever be ignored or oppressed by the University. It’s unfair for the school to assume that its view on students’ personal actions is correct and to deliberately make smokers’ lives harder to reflect those views.

Student smokers will have to take time out of their day to travel to and from acceptable smoking locations. This will affect their ability to study or be involved in healthy University activities. Students don’t deserve such hardships just because they’ve picked up a habit that the University considers unaccceptable.

The University can and should make statements as to what is healthy and what is not. That is a responsibility of an educational institution. But by banning smoking everywhere on campus, the University is overstepping its bounds to protect the health of its students and employees. Instead, the Unversity is singling out a small group of people. As a public higher-learning institution, the University needs to respect freedom of choice and avoid making its students and employees do what it feels is the morally correct course of action.

The University’s disrespect for smokers is no different than the intolerance Ave Maria University has for laying on a couch with another person or someone buying birth control. Both colleges should respect the fact that students may not agree with their moral conclusions. If the University doesn’t recognize this and proceeds with the smoking ban, the University will cease to become an institution of education and instead become one of coercion.

Patrick Zabawa can be reached at pzabawa@umich.edu

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