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Pembroke JCR condemns “discrimatory” fines system

Pembroke’s JCR has passed a motion condemning the current system of college fines as a punishment for student misbehaviour.

The motion, which was passed in last Sunday’s JCR meeting, declared, “Pembroke College uses fines as punishments for bad student behaviour. This JCR believes that this is a discriminatory and unfair system of punishment, affects some students more than others, and is frequently an irrelevant punishment to the misdemeanour.”

It continued, “This JCR resolves to oppose this collegiate process and attempt to work with the college to have a new punishment system put in place.”

The proposer of the motion, Charlotte Vickers, told Cherwell, “Fines are an incredibly discriminative form of punishment – somewhat backwards in the world of Oxford, where equal opportunities for those from any financial backgrounds are encouraged – and Pembroke has given out a few very hefty ones in the past couple of months.

“Our JCR president is already working on alternative disciplinary procedures. Some we suggested were community service, spending a night with the porters or being ‘grounded’ from bops.”

Pembroke’s regulations state that “the Dean may fine any student a sum of up to £200 for the commission of any disciplinary offence.”

A Pembroke spokesperson told Cherwell, “A system of discipline which includes the proportionate use of fines is common across Colleges in Oxford, and any arrangement that effectively deters anti-social behaviour of a kind that is detrimental to the College community will, by its nature, be complex. At Pembroke, if payment of a fine causes genuine hardship or threatens to interrupt academic progress, the College works with students to find a payment schedule that alleviates the difficulty.”

Pembroke’s JCR president Ben Nabarro commented, “The JCR has been engaged in the issue for some time, especially as several incidents from last year exposed the clear inadequacies of fines, which, as a means of punishment, have proven to be neither fair nor effective.

“As long as the system remains fundamentally based on fixed fines, it will remain regressive, unfair, and with poorer students disproportionately affected.

“The passage of this motion has allowed the JCR to speak with a clear voice on this issue and it should provide us with good momentum.”

A Cherwell investigation in Trinity term of 2014 found that in the last three years, some colleges have charged their student bodies more than £10,000 in fines.

The most common offence to incur fines was alcohol-related misbehaviour. Other finable misdemeanours reported to C+ included smoking in a college room, file-sharing and unauthorised parties.

Oriel JCR President Kit Owens is penning a report on fines given to JCR members last term. Owens told Cherwell, “I presented [the report] to the JCR who voted to endorse it. This report has prompted a discussion with senior college members on the subject of disciplinary fines which is ongoing.”

A University spokesman commented, “The rules are quite clear and the Proctors’ role is to investigate possible breaches of University disciplinary codes and to bring charges against students accused of infringing those codes. A fine of up to £300 is one possible outcome.”

Analysis: Lucjan Kaliniecki argues that Colleges seem more interested in making money than their students’ welfare

We’ve all been there. From the 3am rave next door when you’ve got a 9am tute to the trashed staircase after Park End, sometimes we find it difficult to love our neighbours. Whilst we understand that we’re no longer at school and don’t expect to be treated as such, sometimes even the most tolerant of us want someone else to intervene in these disruptive situations.

Of course, no one is arguing that we shouldn’t have some form of disciplinary system for when things get a out of hand. Usually, getting deaned is a fair way of warning someone that they’re out of order. But imposing fines for similar misdeeds seems unnecessarily punitive.

At the very least, these measures would appear to be effective: you’re hitting the student where it especially hurts – the stereotype that all Oxford students have cash to splash isn’t exactly true. In cases involving the damage of property, fines do seem a fair punishment.

However, we must then consider what misdeeds are suited to imposing fines. I’d think that occasions when this form of punishment is appropriate are pretty rare. I’d like to know how it is decided whether an act of misbehaviour is bad enough that it warrants a fine. Is there even a threshold, or will the college just use the fine hammer for everything and anything? How much is this fine, anyway? And how will it correspond to the crime? While we all wish that queue-cutters in the canteen will receive their come-uppance in a fairly minor way later in the evening, I don’t think any of us would agree that a fine of up to £200 would be a fair response to this act.

It also doesn’t help assuage concerns that colleges care more about their finances than the wellbeing of their students. The campaign ‘Whose University?’ is gathering evidence about such behaviour. Students’ testimonies, posted on the group’s Facebook page, often accuse their college of being “far more focused on money” than their students, especially with accommodation.

It’s too much of a broad-stroke to suggest this system is purely discriminatory and regressive. Anyone can misbehave, so everyone should be punished. Where cases of misbehaviour are connected to deeper issues, these should obviously be taken into account, but then we get ourselves embroiled in a weird, complicated, almost means-tested system that makes you wonder why the college is bothering with this whole scheme in the first place. Is this an effective way of curbing bad behaviour, or just another money-making ploy?

The College’s role should be to ensure the welfare of its students and to discipline those who harass or disrupt. Monetary fines do not seem like an appropriate way of doing this, nor are they the only way.

The JCR’s suggestions look like a better solution, and could even be more effective when someone would much rather pay a fine than spend a few hours doing chores or volunteering. Colleges must consider the effect on the community of disciplinary actions, not just their pockets.

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