Mariah Joyce

Contributing Writer

The Wooster Ethic, a document that all students of the College sign during the early weeks of their first year, reads as follows:

“I hereby join this community with a commitment to the Wooster Ethic upholding academic and personal integrity and a culture of honesty and trust in all my academic endeavors, social interactions, and official business of the College. I will submit only my own original work, and respect others and their property. I will not support by my actions or inactions the dishonest acts of others.”

It has recently come to the attention of some in the college community, specifically in SGA, that Wooster’s culture of honesty and respect for property needs to be addressed. Discussion was sparked by the window that was broken in Mom’s the first weekend students were back on campus for the fall semester. The vandalism amounted to $670 worth of damage, for which no one came forward to take responsibility.

“The College was considering how best to respond to the situation,” recalls Dean of Students Kurt Holmes, SGA’s faculty advisor. (The options considered were to “bill the student or students who come forward, pass the bill along to everyone who attended Mom’s that night or, in essence, bill everyone by “absorbing” the cost into the general College budget.”)

Repairs and cleanup from acts of vandalism are covered in four different areas of the College’s budget. During the 2012-13 academic year, the estimated cost of unclaimed damages in each of these four areas was as follows: Custodial – about $12,000; grounds – about $18,000; physical plant – about $40,000; Residence Life – about $25,000. All told, that amounts to about $95,000 worth of the college budget spent on unclaimed damages this past year. Currently, we are on track to exceed that number for the 2013-14 academic year. In 2011, there were 179 cases of unclaimed damages at the College. In 2012, that number rose to 204, and as of Oct. 4 of this year, the College has already had 194 cases of unclaimed damage for 2013.

Absorbing the cost into the overall budget may be the reasonable solution, but it is by no means a victimless crime. “When one person damages campus property and it goes unclaimed one of two things happens; either everyone gets charged to replace it or the money gets taken away from other initiatives the College is working on,” said Ginna Rich ’14, an SGA senator.

“The College could be using this money to build a new residence hall, provide more tenure positions or provide more scholarships. $100,000 is enough money to pay a year’s tuition for two students that are now not able to come to Wooster because of the acts of a few individuals,” she continued.

“This is clearly a problem that needs to be addressed and SGA has put it at the top of our priority list,” said President Molly McCartt ’14. The first step taken was to revive the Wooster Ethics Committee, which had been active up through the 2011-2012 academic year, but died out last year. For now, the committee will be chaired by Mariah McGovern ’14. McGovern said that the Committee was tasked with promoting the Wooster Ethic not just in academics, but also in campus culture. As the committee continues to gain members, an emphasis will be placed on creating as diverse and representative a body as possible.

Next, SGA is launching what they are for now calling a “Respect Campaign” made up of three parts. First, they aim to raise awareness of the extent of the problem. McCartt noted that many students are not aware of the issue.

Second, they plan to raise awareness of the specific, day to day impacts these damages have on students. Lastly, McCartt said the SGA plans to work with the Wooster Ethic Committee to promote all forms of respect on campus.

One idea in the works is the implementation of some form of incentive based system, with rewards provided for a certain number of days the College goes without incident, McCartt said, adding that “We welcome ideas for incentives the students would be interested in.”

SGA also discussed adding an estimated cost next to the damages that are reported in the Security Briefs of The Wooster Voice each week as another way to promote awareness of this problem.

While the financial cost to the College is indeed staggering, the real issue here is one of integrity. “What is even more important than the cost of these damages is the fact that this behavior, whether intentional or not, represents Wooster students as destructive and disrespectful, which is not an accurate representation of the good moral character of most Wooster students,” Rich said.

The Wooster Ethics Committee has been revived to address issues of integrity and respect across the campus. The committee will be supported by the Dean’s office, Holmes, and some faculty.

While a few members of SGA have opted to serve on the committee, it is not solely an SGA committee; anyone passionate about making a positive change on the culture of the college is invited to join.

The first meeting will be held at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 30 in Lowry.