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Ordinance a step backward

Observer Editorial | Friday, August 26, 2005

The relationship between Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students and South Bend, like that of any town-gown community, has had its tense moments. But the disorderly house ordinance amendment recently passed by the South Bend Common Council may mark a new low.

The ordinance, which if enforced strictly could cause off-campus students to face fines up to $2,500 or even eviction, was intended to calm rowdy parties. Instead, both the timing of its passage and the University’s reluctance to stand up for affected students will only fuel the fire.

It is stunning that Common Council member Ann Puzzello did not initially consider the fact that passing the ordinance during the summer – when the vast majority of students are away from South Bend – could be perceived as unfair. Not only has the ordinance’s timing further alienated students from the decision, it has caused confusion about which actions are acceptable and which will result in police action, because students were not around to demand clarification.

Furthermore, even though students make up a large percentage of the population in some districts of the council, their views are not adequately represented because, as only temporary residents, they are unable to vote for their representative. While Notre Dame student body president Dave Baron and off-campus president Matt Wormington should be commended for their efforts to represent students in the discussion over the summer, more action should have been taken by the council to better include student views in discussions.

But while the council’s disdain for the opinions of off-campus students is disappointing, the University’s refusal to stand up for them is unacceptable.

Due to the current housing crunch, Notre Dame depends on 1,600 of these students to move into the South Bend community each year to make room for incoming freshmen.

And while these students move off-campus by their own choice and for a variety of reasons, the fact remains they are helping the University and should not be abandoned when presented with the difficulties of living off-campus.

Notre Dame claims to serve “in loco parentis,” in place of the parent. As a parent, the University is responsible for both punishing and supporting students. If an off-campus student is still subject to many of the same rules and regulations of the Office of Residence Life as on-campus students, that student should also receive the same support from the University that on-campus students receive.

Notre Dame should have stood up for its off-campus students and at least fought against the ordinance’s untimely passage, if not its unduly harsh consequences.

That said, students are not free from blame in heightening the neighborhood tensions that led to the ordinance’s passage. The ordinance makes clear that immature, disrespectful behavior will not be tolerated, and it should not be. Students should remember that they are not living only amongst other students, and should act like responsible members of a greater community.

But it’s a two-way street, and residents must not view students as invaders in their communities. Effort should be made on their part to get along with the students. If there is a problem, they should approach students and attempt to find a compromise. Calling the police should be their last resort, not the first option.

With a little more communication, South Bend residents can see eye to eye with students who are reasonable adults, not careless teenagers.

An effort should now be made to move away from the division between students and South Bend residents worsened by this ordinance. A good first step would be a forum – facilitated by a genuinely involved and concerned Notre Dame – that brings students together with council members to honestly discuss the ordinance that for now seems a misdirected and unnecessary source of division.