Staff council set to discuss campus-wide smoking ban

Matthew Stottlemyre

University President William Powers Jr., said he opposes a campus-wide ban on smoking in his annual address to UT staff on Thursday.

Powers told Staff Council a complete ban on smoking would overstep the appropriate limits the University currently places on where individuals can smoke.

“What we’re doing is saying we are going to limit the freedom of the person who wants to smoke for the benefit of the people who don’t want to be in a smoke-filled office or room,” Powers said. “I think that is perfectly appropriate, and I agree with that.”

This month, Student Government passed a resolution calling for a seven-year process to ban smoking campus-wide. The resolution would also make the University Health Services’ Quitters smoking-cessation classes available to faculty and staff without a fee. The four-class program is already available to students free of charge and to staff and faculty for a fee.

SG’s version of the rule would allow certain exceptions to the ban, similar to the way tailgating and the bar at the Cactus Cafe have become exceptions to the dry-campus policy, said SG administrative director Nathan Bunch when the student assembly passed the resolution.

Powers said he understands limits on smoking in certain areas, possibly including outdoor areas, but said a complete ban alienates too many people.

“I think we ought to have reasonable places for our family — staff, students, faculty — whether I agree with them smoking or not, to accommodate their interests,” Powers said. “There are students and faculty and staff who smoke. Do we want to say to them, ‘You can’t work here?’”

Staff Council chairman Ben Bond said members of the council have expressed support for each side of the issue. He said the council will discuss a resolution during its next monthly meeting.

“I honestly don’t have a sense of where the council is going to come down on this,” Bond said.

Phillip Hebert, administrative associate in the College of Natural Sciences and council member, said he completely opposes a smoking ban. He said he thinks dealing with the possibility of more staff layoffs should take precedence to any work on a smoking ban.

“We are facing extremely hard times right now, with colleagues being laid off and positions being lost to attrition,” Hebert said. “I think it’s the wrong time to focus energy and resources on something as insignificant as smoking while you’re walking outside.”

During his address, Powers said more small-scale layoffs could be on the way for staff, in addition to hundreds of layoffs during the last budget cycle. He said whether more staff are laid off and how many are laid off depends on the state’s general allocations and on specific departments’ plans for dealing with budget shortfalls. The Legislative Budget Board, an agency that recommends cuts to state agencies, suggested a $93.2 million cut to the UT budget.

The University will probably be able to avoid any large-scale layoffs requiring reorganization of administration, he said.

“I wish I could say we have budget plans that will avoid all layoffs, but I can’t say that,” Powers said.