The Economics and Ethics of Party Cleanup

It has become par-for-the course to see our campus in a state of absolute disarray on Friday and Sunday mornings. Red cups litter the floors and tables of North Quad lounges, while in the middle of campus, beer cans hang out of bushes, remnants of the long trek north from mid and south quad. As a freshman and sophomore, I considered these destroyed lounges as a badge of honor; they inspired in me a sense of pride—not pride that we hadn’t cleaned up—but rather, that we’d enjoyed each other’s company. Come Monday morning, I’d see Rosa, Liza, Estella, and Ilma hauling two or three bags of cups and cans out of each North Quad lounge, but at this point my mind was back in the world of academia; I gave little thought to the scale of our messiness. The disconnect between the weekend mindset and workweek mindset made it difficult to understand the true costs of our partying. Then last year as Boswell dorm president, and later in the spring as Social Affairs Chair, I began spending an increasing amount of time cleaning up social events after they ended. With assistance, cleaning takes about 15 minutes; without assistance it can take hours. Cleaning up after ourselves at parties is the most economically wise, strategically optimal, and ethical course of action. Between 2004 and 2010 the Associated Students of Claremont McKenna College accrued a bill of $28,508 in cleanup charges from Story House. That’s an average of $4,072 per year. To put that into perspective, last year’s White Party cost $3,933 after accounting for revenues from ticket sales. After skillful negotiation, the final bill paid by ASCMC to Story House for this time period amounted to $10,494; that’s still $1,500 per year that could have been better allocated to funding another Dodgers game trip, renting out the village theatre for a movie premiere, or simply increasing club budgets.

It might be justifiable if we were paying groundskeepers an increased wage, but we’re not. Story House is not liable to discuss individual wage rates, or even collective wage ranges, for house and grounds employees, but they informed me of the following party cleanup costs. For non-overtime clean ups, Story House charges $36.00 per hour of labor for grounds keepers and building attendants. For overtime cleanups, they charge $54.00 per hour of labor. The word “overtime” in this context is a bit of a misnomer, because Story House employees aren’t technically allowed to work more than 8 hours per day. Rather they are required to complete their normal duties in addition to party cleanup within their normally allotted work schedule without billing Story House for the extra work. Story House then imposes an additional rent (the difference between the worker wage rate and either $36 or $54) on this labor. Especially on weekends, such an arrangement places building attendants and groundskeepers under particular duress. They must commute to and from CMC again, thus increasing their travel costs and forcing them to shave the extra hours off of the following 40 hour work week, all without significant changes in their overall compensation. It would be hard to argue that the current arrangement fairly compensates CMC’s building attendants and grounds crew for cleaning up our parties. Thus, the current state of affairs is neither efficient nor equitable: ASCMC loses $1500 and Story House employees are not compensated for their extra time and effort.

Have you ever wondered why we have a great alcohol policy at CMC, one that allows us to socialize and interact without worrying about ‘big-brother’ looking over our shoulders? The Dean of Students Office affords us our drinking privileges for one main reason: they trust us to socialize and party responsibly. This trust is hard earned, and violations of it result in real consequences for our on-campus social life. The Dean of Students Office created an Alcohol Task Force after several incidents of alcohol poisoning at the beginning of the year in 2009. In addition, the Dean of Students Office canceled TNC for a month last year after the appearance of unregistered kegs at the year’s first TNC. When it comes to party cleanup, the Deans have no interest in explaining to the Admissions or Public Affairs offices why tour groups and campus visitors walked through North Quad on a Wednesday morning only to find several lounges completely unusable. Nor for that matter should they. The more we clean up after ourselves, the more we affirm DOS’ trust in our responsibility. This will help preserve our current drinking privileges and socially-open campus atmosphere.

Now that we’ve grasped on the economic and strategic factors governing party cleanup, let’s examine the most important aspect: leadership. CMC’s focus on leadership is, in my opinion, the characteristic that fundamentally differentiates us from other schools. There’s something in the students here—an unrelenting drive for success and self-improvement, the conviction to articulate and defend our beliefs, the unpretentiousness to admit when we’re wrong and learn from our mistakes—that collectively defines us as CMCers. It is these same traits that allow for our post-graduation success, whether in business, finance, academia, medicine, government, or any field at all. But with great leadership comes great responsibility. Psychologists and management theorists have long known that within institutions and organizations, agents lower in the power hierarchy model their own behavior after those at the top. This observation is true outside the workplace. If your experience was similar to mine, as a freshman you respected and looked up to the upperclassmen to better know what it meant to be a CMCer in the social sense. The importance of leaders as behavioral models is among the reasons that the concept of ‘institutional memory’ is so important in both government and the private sector. Once a respected authoritative leader has established the status quo, his/her model becomes very difficult to change.

The status quo of our campus party culture is unacceptable. As good people and exemplary future leaders we should clean up after ourselves not only because it saves us money, benefits our incredible building attendants and grounds crew, and affords us a certain autonomy in our relations with DOS, but also because taking full responsibility for one’s actions is a fundamental pillar of good leadership. CMC, please, let’s pick up after ourselves.

Thanks to the actions of other student leaders such as SPEAR Presidents Ben Feldman and Hillary Haskell, this task will not be particularly difficult. Going forward, there will be red trashcans at all ASCMC parties, specifically for recycling the infamous red cups. If you don’t want to throw away that Solo cup immediately (I’ll admit there is some celebratory utility derived from slamming a cup on the ground after a good game of flip cup) then please, take two minutes at the end of the night to pick up and throw away 5-10 pieces of trash. In the near future, these red Solo cup recycling bins will be available to check out from Story House for any social event, so we can keep our lounges clean even after private events, thus reducing dorm damages for all. On Thursdays and Saturdays, I will be sticking around to clean up after the party. I sincerely hope you’ll do the same.

I encourage everyone to criticize, discuss, and contemplate this article in the comments section below. However if you would like to be involved in rotating six-person student cleanup crews—this obligation will involve approximately 1-1.5 hours of cleaning one Sunday afternoon per month—then please send me an email (wbrown12@cmc.edu) or give me a call (443.690.5364) and we’ll get you on board.