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OPINION: There’s no such thing as a free Scantron

By Dominic Pino, Columnist

It’s midterm season, aka scantron season.  We all love scantrons because it means there is a multiple choice exam on the horizon.  We also love these little green or blue slips of paper for their low price. But has it ever crossed your mind why we must pay for them at all?  Why is it on the student to pay for something that the professor requires to take an exam? We don’t have to pay for the paper on which the exam questions are printed, but we must pay for the paper on which our exam answers are marked.  Certainly this university has enough money to pay for scantrons. If you don’t believe that, check your next bill.

Upon further thought, this scantron commodity oddity seems especially peculiar when you consider another thing the university hands out at zero cost: condoms.

“It’s a public health issue.  We want to slow the spread of disease and prevent unwanted pregnancy,” you might say.  

Fair, but I would say the best way to achieve both of those goals is to teach young men to keep it in their pants.  

“But we all know young men won’t, and college students are adults who are responsible for their own actions,” is the inevitable reply.  The former part of that statement is generally true. But please spare me the “college students are responsible adults” nonsense. If college students are so responsible, why do they need a condom handout?  They could go to Walgreens, walk to the family planning aisle, pick up a box of condoms, take them to the cash register, and do what responsible adults do whenever they want something they don’t have: buy them with their own money.

And then there is the obvious fact that scantrons are directly related to the mission of a university: to provide an education.  Condoms are not. Judging by what the university hands out, it seems that its priorities are out of line. Giving an object away at zero cost is tacit encouragement of the use of that object.  What’s more important to an educational institution: education or sex? This is a question that should not need to be asked.

By now, you are probably expecting me to advocate for making scantrons free.  But there’s no such thing as a free scantron. The price system allows demand to be met adequately for paying consumers.  This holds for scantrons, condoms, books, airline tickets, Girl Scout cookies, Canadian bacon . . . and anything else for which responsible adults are willing to exchange money.

But that does not exclude charity. Student Government handed out scantrons at Southside the week before spring break.  I spoke with two student senators handing out free scantrons in the Slobby (Southside lobby). Junior Jeremy Aylward and freshman Max Kim described the goal to hand out 10,000 scantrons to students around midterms.  They estimated the total cost to Student Government was a few hundred dollars. Not that big of an investment for Student Government, but a huge payoff to the student body augmented by the surprise of getting something useful just for eating lunch.

So, let’s be consistent.  Neither scantrons nor condoms should be costless. I commend Student Government’s charity of handing out 10,000 scantrons.  If student organizations want to buy condoms and hand them out to students, that’s their choice. In fact, there is no question in my mind that some student organization would do just that in the absence of the current handout.  This is not a question of effects, but of principles: if it is not the job of the university to provide testing supplies, then it is certainly not the job of the university to provide sex supplies. End the condom handouts. Or, as scantrons always remind us, erase completely.

Photo by Allie Thompson