Booting the Bill

by Nathan Bruschi | 12/4/07 1:10am

From: [Community Director]

Subject: Damages in [the cluster]

To: (Recipient list suppressed)

"I am sorry to report that over the weekend there was considerable damage done to the Men's Public Bathroom in [redacted communal space] in the form of vomit on the floors, toilet and walls .... If no one comes forward to accept responsibility for the damages, I will have to charge all of [the cluster] for these damages."

It was not the first time I had gotten such an e-mail. Apparently some of the more prolific drunks in my dorm have aim as bad as their judgment and, most curiously, I have a fiduciary responsibility for their conduct. I could understand it if this message to my residence hall was nothing more than an idle attempt to shame the guilty parties into confessing. But lo and behold, the perpetrator did not come forward and I received a blitz informing me of the subsequent administrative charges made to my Dartmouth Card. This systemic policy of punishing a group for the transgressions of a select few individuals is not an effective policy and directly goes against Dartmouth's egalitarian principles.

First of all, I challenge the notion that the person who ralphed in the communal bathroom was necessarily a resident of the cluster. Unless the perpetrator has the godly ability to retch on command, regurgitation tends to be a spur of the moment event. The bathrooms on almost all floors in my cluster are located within the dorm rooms. These lavatories are inaccessible to non-residents who are therefore much more likely to use communal ones. Ill residents would be much more likely to use the familiar and conveniently located restrooms on their floor, as they would probably be in their rooms anyway.

Because there is a certain element of randomness in housing assignments, charging damages by cluster would unfairly burden students who are forced to live in more rowdy dorms, or ones located off frat row. If we are to hold society to account for this kind of behavior, why not bill the collective fraternity system, as the mystery spewer was likely made ill by excessive drinking in one of their establishments? Why not bill everyone who uses Food Court (they have your DDS records) when someone makes a mess in one of the back rooms?

Another argument in favor of billing residence clusters for damage in communal spaces is that it causes residents to be more vigilant about preventing and reporting incidents like this. Natural human aversion to vomit and the desire to have a clean restroom will make people more vigilant than a trivial surcharge ever will, but these fines do add up over time. Students will continue to get sick and make less than stellar decisions regarding alcohol that lead to emesis regardless of the billing scheme. Regardless of how rigorously and fairly damages charges are applied, guilty students only have incentive to become cleverer in avoiding detection. Charging the cluster would not encourage friends of the sick person to fess up, because the surcharge is not worth the strained friendship and total cost that their friend would have to incur. A random observer would report the mess anyway.

In the incident above, I was charged $1.04 for damages. Multiplying this by the number of residents in the cluster, I approximate total cleaning cost at more than $340. I have a deep respect for the hard and valued work of our custodians " who really deserve more gratitude than we give them " but I find this charge unusually expensive. For $340, I envision a hazmat team, complete with air tanks and gas masks, braving the radioactive biohazard of a bathroom in order to laser-lasso, Ghostbusters-style, the upchuck from the tiled floor. At Wal-Mart, it takes a minimum-wage worker five minutes to clean up a recent barf with nothing more than a broom and a bucket of sawdust. Grand total: $0.54 plus the cost of sawdust.

A much more effective policy would be to take a percentage every students' housing fees and put it into a communal fund dedicated to the upkeep of every dorm. Using the school's logic, it would give us all a stake in the well-being of all residential halls--not just one's own-- and it would make the entire system more fair. The extra money left over from term to term can be invested in surveillance equipment that would actually ensure accountability when property damage occurs. To continue to punish individuals for the misdeeds of an unknown member of the group is a perversion of justice.