At its next meeting, Pomona’s Student Affairs Committee (SAC) will be considering a revision to or complete elimination of the school’s system for administering monetary fines to students who violate policies in the Student Handbook (see story Page 1). If the proposal moves forward, it could lead to the replacement of fines with alternative forms of punishment for policy violations, including service for the college or the community. Although the proposal is in its early stages and could fail to gain momentum in SAC, this Editorial Board strongly endorses a revision to the fine system that would limit or remove the role of fines in Pomona’s punitive system for two reasons.
First, the fine system clearly disadvantages lower-income students. No one wants to be fined $1,000 for being “found on the roof of any college building other than those designated for usage,” as the Student Handbook stipulates, but you particularly do not want to pay that fine if you’re working a part-time job to help pay for college. The purpose of these punishments is to deter all students from violating policy in the Student Handbook, but fines create a punitive system that can dole out unequal punishments to two students of different financial means for committing the same policy violation.
Second, fines are unproductive. While they may force students who have committed policy violations to reconsider their actions the next time they are faced with a similar situation, there is a better way to punish students for the policy violations they commit. The fine system is a “convergent” punishment system in that it provides for only one “solution” (monetary fine) to a given “problem” (policy violation). This is like asking a child to write, “My name is so-and-so and I have broken the rules,” 50 times on a chalkboard when that child breaks the rules—it is silly, static, and disconnected from the actual rule that was broken or, more importantly, the reason that rule should not be broken. The policy violator learns only to avoid violating that policy, not why the policy exists.
Instead, this Editorial Board would propose a system that depends less on fines and more on service—to the school, community, fellow students, or staff members. We would propose a “divergent” punishment system, where punishments are more appropriately tailored to fit the severity and circumstances of a policy violation. If a student becomes physically aggressive with a Campus Safety officer at a school-wide event, perhaps that student could help provide security, oversight, or logistical assistance at a later event. If a student is written up for possession of hard alcohol on South Campus, that student could be given the opportunity to pay a monetary fine, but also given the chance to replace that fine with a commitment to participate in a service opportunity through the Draper Center for Community Partnerships.
Pomona’s fine system exists for a reason, but it provides for unequal and unproductive punishments for policy violations. It’s time Pomona pursued a punitive system that makes sense.