Let’s begin with the uncontroversial: the loss of 2,350 plastic Peirce cups over the course of a single semester was abominable and inexcusable. The (more divisive) question that then follows is: What to do about it? The Collegian staff weighed in on this debate a few weeks ago in its Nov. 21, 2013 editorial “Stop Stealing Cups” with uncharacteristic invective:
“What is wrong with us? Does a student body that claims to care about the environment truly believe that such resources are unlimited, that we can unthinkingly take and never give back?”
The sentiment is noble, but misguided. The significantly depleted cup inventory indicates a need for change, but it would be impractical to expect that change to come solely from the student body. I would argue that we can’t make any strides toward a solution until we acknowledge that administrators of dining services share an equal responsibility in this failure.
The idea in play here should be familiar to us: self-interest, rather than an abstract notion of a “common good,” governs the actions of an individual. It is a bedrock of modern political philosophy and economic theory. Applied to the issue at hand, the solution is head-smackingly, “shoulda-had-a-V8” obvious: Peirce must implement either a strong deterrent to prevent people from taking out cups and other dining materials, or a strong incentive to return them after their use.
“We’re primarily a college and a community,” a skeptic might respond, “not a capitalist society. Therefore, those rules don’t apply to us.” It’s precisely this conviction that our community is somehow above or exempt from these virtually universal laws that has hindered progress. Another hypothetical dissenter could say, “We’re adults, and should be treated as such. We don’t need Peirce to baby us.” To that I would respond: Do you really find the web of communal obligation in which we are all enmeshed here infantilizing? I would argue that it is far more juvenile to hoard stacks of cups at your own convenience.
Still not convinced? Then take, by way of analogy, the library check-out system. Since library books are a privilege shared by the entire College (and several other neighboring institutions), necessary measures must be taken to ensure that the privilege is not abused and the books are returned on time. Even if certain books are in higher “demand,” and thus technically of higher or lesser value, every book incurs overdue fines at the same rate. The principle underpinning fines on library books is that the loss of any book, let alone several, is costly, unnecessary and most importantly, avoidable. This is a philosophy Peirce would do well to emulate.
To that end, I’d like to propose three potential solutions, all with varying degrees of feasibility:
First, Standardize a more efficient bin collection system around campus, making return duty a source of student employment.
Secondly, create a takeout system within Peirce whereby students can “check out” dining materials for a definite period of time before incurring a fine, like the library book system.
Finally, institute a policy whereby Community Advisors are capable of issuing individual fines to their residents based on the number of dining materials found in their room.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I’d urge people to debate the relative merits and shortcomings of each solution, and to come up with more favorable ones. At this point, one thing is beyond question — a systemic change is imperative.
Jonah Allon ’16 is a prospective political science major from New York City. You can contact him at email@example.com
Comments for this article have closed. If you'd like to send a letter to the editor for publication, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.