Sunday, October 5, 2008

Town/Gown Talks - Time for the City Council to Act

At the August 4th meeting of the City Council, the members voted to take comprehensive action on illegal rooming houses and related issues. Jack Weiss identified these issues as:

-Decriminalization of parts of the Bellingham City code to ease enforcement.
-Landlord licensing.
-Changing, in some manner, the definition of family.
-Enhancing enforcement of code violations (upgrade of Litter Control Officer position).
-Upgrading the nuisance ordinances.
-Beginning a dialogue with the new WWU administration under its new president.

I have spoken to the first 5 of these issues (of this six-legged stool) in previous blog entries. (You can read those by clicking here, here, here, here and here.) The sixth item relates to the relationship between the city and the university. Many of the problems manifest themselves in that which the City Council and the Mayor call nuisances, e.g. loud parties, litter, drunkenness, illegal parking, etc. I separate the issue of illegal rooming houses, which is a zoning and density problem, from the issue of nuisances which do not necessarily stem from illegal rooming houses, although there are still those who confound the two. That being said, there is reason for the city to talk seriously to the university about off-campus student behavior.

I wrote to Dr. Bruce Shepard, President of WWU, in an as yet unanswered letter (click here to read that letter) on 16 September and brought up nuisances as his interview with the Herald implied that he would continue the university’s largely hands-off attitude and asked that the community keep student behavior “in context”, whatever that means.

It is interesting to note that student off-campus behavior is under increased scrutiny nationwide and rightly so. A recent article from the Associate Press mentions actions at Washington State University, Duke, Rutgers, Ohio State and Penn State (click here to read the article). Nobody is advocating taking a club to students, however, rules covering off-campus behavior by their very existence can send a powerful message to those living or playing off-campus. Perhaps Dr. Shepard might wish to talk to Washington State University President Elson S. Floyd whose student code contains the following:

Article II: Proscribed Conduct

WAC 504-26-200 Jurisdiction of the university standards of conduct for students.

The university standards of conduct for students shall apply to conduct that occurs on university premises, at university sponsored activities, and to off-campus conduct that adversely affects the university community and/or the pursuit of its objectives. Each student is responsible for his/her conduct from the time of application for admission through the actual awarding of a degree, even though conduct may occur before classes begin or after classes end, as well as during the academic year and during periods between terms of actual enrollment. These standards shall apply to a student's conduct even if the student withdraws from school while a disciplinary matter is pending. The university has sole discretion to determine what conduct occurring off campus adversely impacts the university community and/or the pursuit of university objectives. (Click here to read the original on the WSU website.)

So the City Council and the Mayor should talk to WWU, and soon, as part of Jack Weiss’ proposal. They may want to bring a few Bellingham residents along for the discussions to provide "context."

NB. Here is a postscript to my blog entry of 29 September (click here to read that entry) regarding WWU and rental advertising. I visited the Viking Union on 4 October to view the housing rental bulletin board. As promised to me by Mr. Schuster, Director of Viking Union Facilities, I found no advertising for single family homes in violation of the Bellingham Municipal Code (BMC). No ads were posted under the headings of “4 and 5 Bedroom Rentals” which is good but leaves one to wonder the reason for which these categories are still there. My understanding was that a warning regarding posting of ads violating the BMC would also be placed on the board, however, I did not find any such notice.

No comments: