Some Physical Education Fines Are Inappropriate

by Michelle Kraemer | 7/3/96 5:00am

Until recently, I had imagined the College's physical education program director as a man sitting on a Caribbean beach, ordering tropical drinks and tipping the waiters with fists full of fifties, freshly garnered from some poor sophomore who'd failed skiing class for the second year straight. Maybe he'd work in the summer, escape the heat in his air-conditioned office and cruise around Hanover in his shiny new BMW. Maybe that was even his car that almost hit me this morning on the way to the Hop.

Well, I still don't know where Ken Jones goes on his vacations, or what kind of car he drives, but I do know that despite the beliefs of campus skeptics, Dartmouth's P.E. director doesn't seem to be getting rich off the woes of failing, and fined, students. So, where then does the money go?

The P.E. requirement has often perplexed me with its seemingly odd policy of punishing students for failing a class they've, in most cases, already paid for. What aerobics instructor complains if none of her students show up on a summery day? Does she really mind the paid free time? Is anyone hurt besides the student who paid for the class? The obvious answer seems to be no. However, one must look deeper to understand why those pesky little fines will continue to show up on our college bills and the bills of our friends.

Apparently, somewhere in that miscellaneous category called your Dartmouth tuition is a sum of money set aside for three terms of Dartmouth P.E. Enrollment fees are assessed for P.E. classes whose per capita costs exceed the pre-paid amount.

If you sign up for a class and fail it, you not only lose out on a term's credit but the athletic department slaps you with a $50 fine. Each time you fail, it is another $50 and, if you haven't completed your requirement by the end of sophomore summer, that's $50 more per term, per credit until you do!

In theory, the income from P.E. fines, which has lingered around $45,000 per year (no, this is not a typo), goes to subsidize classes for those who have already taken and failed a course. Because more courses need to be offered and more instructors paid to accommodate these failed students, the money is necessary.

This sounds perfectly logical. After all, when approximately 1,000 students failed a P.E. class-- just short of one-fourth the Dartmouth population-- in the '93-'94 school year, the athletic department was faced with a backlog of juniors and seniors scrambling to fulfill their requirement. Something needed to be done to prevent procrastinators from wreaking havoc in P.E. land, something that would hurt students where they feel it most, in their checkbooks.

What does not make sense is that so-called "volunteers," who satisfied their requirement long before becoming tai chi black belts and water polo champions, pay the same enrollment fees as those hoping for P.E. credit. So much for the three-term subsidy argument.

Though the rationale behind this policy is to encourage students to continue being physically active, the principle remains economically inconsistent. But, while I think it is important to question the philosophy behind the penalty, I do not advocate eliminating fines for deliberate P.E. failure. These fines stress responsibility and protect the department against paying instructors for idle time.

What I do urge is an examination of the time limit placed on students. Theoretically, a sophomore could be returning for sophomore summer after having spent the last year on FSPs and leave terms. This requires him to take a P.E. class three terms out of four and, with some classes requiring a time commitment of up to four hours a week, this can sometimes be difficult to juggle.

Physical well-being is undeniably important for all students, but this, like academic matters, is and should be an individual responsibility. No one charges you fines for leaving all your distributives until senior year. Those faced with a mad search for an interdisciplinary lab on the soils of East Asia senior spring must deal with the consequences of their own procrastination. So why the paternalism when it comes to P.E.? Wouldn't the results be just as grave if every senior wanted to sign up for the same science class as the same tennis class?

In an ideal world, College administrators would trust students to take it upon themselves to complete all their requirements, from Non-Western classes to physical education. There would be no hand holding, no warnings and no fines. But, Hanover is far from utopia.

For now, we can only ask that the College be even-handed with its fining policies, so that we can anticipate what surprise will be waiting on our August bills. Setting time limits for some requirements and not others demands careful, well-defined and sensible reasoning, which, at this point in time, the administration seems unable to communicate.

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