Strong words for smokers on campus

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A University of Mississippi staff member says his words in a recent email threatening to fire student workers for smoking may have come across a bit too strong.

Earlier this month, Ron Savell, manager of Technology Services at the Office of Information Technology, sent out an email May 16 to student workers in his office condemning their smok- ing while at work on campus, however some students felt he went too far.

“This is just a heads up for all student workers. If you currently smoke cigarettes or anything else, use this notice as your suggestion to quit,” the email stated. “We will no longer hire any student that smokes. This is a smoke-free campus, and I am not going to continue breathing in your second hand smoke … I want each of you to respond to me ASAP informing me whether you currently smoke and are quitting, or whether you don’t smoke at all. If I smell cigarette smoke on your clothes when I walk up, then you will be looking for another job. No threats here, just a promise that if you currently smoke and don’t stop stinking up the place, you will be excused from all your current duties with IT.”

Email newsletter signup

One student, Thomas, said after he confronted Savell about the email, he was fired “on the spot.”

Thomas, who asked to not use his last name, said the day after the email, he told Savell that he felt disrespected and that what he was doing was illegal.

“When I told him this, I was immediately fired,” Thomas told the EAGLE.

Savell confirmed Thomas was fired, but said it was not due to his issues over the email.

“I can’t go into the reasons since it’s a personnel issue,” Savell said. “The email may have influenced some of the things he did afterward, but it was not the reason he was fired.”

Thomas said he contacted the Equal Opportunity and Regulatory Compliance office on campus to file a complaint after receiving the first email.

“I felt completely disrespected and discriminated against,” he said.

Savell said some of the student workers have been smoking during work breaks on campus, which is against school policy.

A second email

He admits his wording may have been too strong, but that he didn’t intend to tell the student workers they couldn’t smoke on their own time, when off campus. He sent another email on May 18 to clarify his position.

“I am focusing on the University of Mississippi policy concerning Smoke-Free Campus Environment … I in no way intended to stipulate that I was trying enforce any rules

for what any of you do outside the scope of the university. What you do on your own time while off duty is your own business. The guidelines and rules that I want to emphasize are the following: Smoking is prohibited at all times anywhere on the University of Mississippi property. As a staff member of the university I am responsible for the communication and enforcement of that policy,” the second email stated.

Savell said while smoking on campus is against the school’s policy, people are still smoking, often times behind buildings on campus, leaving cigarette butts and creating clouds of smoke wafting into the buildings.

“I apologize for sounding so rough in the first email,” Savell said. “I wrongly worded my thoughts.”

Savell said he’s thankful for the work his student employees do each day, but wants to remind everyone the campus is smoke-free, and those not following that policy make it difficult for those who do not smoke.

“People are out on the porch, throwing their butts down, and when it rains it’s even worse,” he said.

Smoke-free campus

Smoking on campus was banned in 2013.

Students and faculty or staff caught smoking are given a citation. For students, it’s forwarded to the Student Conduct Office and faculty and staff citations are sent to the Human

Resource Department. In 2014, 41 citations were given out. That number jumped to 127 citations during the 2015/2016 school year, according to University Police Chief Tim Potts.

“We will tell officers to frequent areas where we receive complaints,” Potts said. “If there are people who know ‘hot spots,’ we ask them to let us know and we’re happy to check those out.”

Enforcing the policy is often difficult during big events, like home football games in the Grove.

“I personally have gone to tents and asked people to put out their cigarettes,” Potts said. “But with crowds like that, do we miss some? Sure. But it’s not the only thing we have to deal with on a football weekend.” Potts said while the university has some teeth in enforcing the no-smoking policy on campus when it comes to students or employees, it gets harder when it’s a visitor on campus.

“It’s not a state law, just a university policy,” he said. “We can issue the citations but there’s no teeth behind it.”