Make physical plant accountable

As a resident of The Plaza dormitory, I have experienced first hand the grievances that many students have about unfair dorm damage charges. Between Jan. 24 and Feb. 22, residents of the Plaza have been fined close to $1,200, averaging approximately $40 per student, or for those who must work, seven extra hours on an on-campus job (and there are still three months left for additional dorm damage charges, which, at the current rate of accumulation, would mean $160, or 28 hours of extra work). Many of these charges are in the amount of $100 for the alleged cleanup of vomit over the course of the weekend (our weekly custodian, with whom all the residents of the dorm are on good terms, has not levied such fines). However, for the vast majority of these charges, not a single student, including The Plaza resident counselor (RC), had witnessed either the vomit or the cleanups. On some of the evenings that these alleged incidents took place, many individuals in the dorm can confirm that throughout the night they had not seen vomit in the laundry room, common room or even the bathroom, which it would seem, would be difficult for so many to miss.

This is certainly not to say that there is a malicious intent on the part of physical plant. Rather, it is a reasonable acknowledgment that physical plant, like everyone else, is fallible-that they can make mistakes.  For example, residents in the Plaza were fined $100 for vomit in the laundry room, but when the charge was appealed, completely different vomit incidents were cited as the reason for the fine-as the alleged laundry room incident was never mentioned. Additionally, it is quite possible that vomit is being applied as a generic charge for any kind of unidentifiable cleanup. Admittedly, spilled beer is rather unpleasant the next day-sticky and rank-but it nonetheless resulted in the erroneous $100 punitive charge for vomit. Whatever the case, it is clear that because charges are assigned to the entire dorm when the individual responsible is unknown, no one is being deterred, and everyone, whether culpable or not, is being punished.

It is not unreasonable to believe that paper work got mixed up or human error has occurred.  Nevertheless, the current policies make an assumption that physical plant is infallible. They assign the charges, and are then responsible for weighing the validity of the appeals. This would be akin to a police officer arresting an individual for an alleged crime, punishing him for the crime and requiring the appeal to be reviewed by the police chief. While it is possible for individuals to successfully appeal their individual responsibility regarding a charge, based on personal experience with the appeals process, whole charges on dorms will never be eliminated. Similar to our government which is predicated on principles of accountability and the separation of powers, physical plant ought to be subject to such reasonable checks.

Perhaps The Plaza fines were completely justified, perhaps not. The fact is, we just do not know under the present system. And not knowing is simply not good enough.

Therefore, I propose the following, and strongly urge the Association of Amherst Students (AAS) and the administration to seriously consider advocating for and implementing these reforms:

1) Require oral notification to the dorm RC (or any student volunteer in the dorm) immediately before physical plant begins cleaning, in order to verify the incident.

2) Give the dorm residents the opportunity to rectify the situation if it is not health-related (such as a trash pickup, misplaced furniture or propping a door open).

3) Require notification of the incident to the dorm residents within days, not weeks or months later.

4) Move the appeals process out of physical plant, and to a different office, such as the dean of housing, dean of students or an AAS committee.

5) Limit the fines to the actual cost of cleanup. Vomit currently incurs an arbitrary punitive fine of $100, substantially more than what is required to cover costs.