Should USM students vote for the “common hour”?

Posted on March 19, 2013 in News
By Jeremy Holden

While some students and faculty at USM may be all for the creation of a common hour, others are concerned that it might be more of a hassle than a good thing for university as a whole.

The goal of the common hour is to set aside time during the school day when classes would not be held for students and faculty, allowing members of the university community to meet or get involved with student organizations. For students already immersed in student organizations, this block of time would provide an opportunity during a busy school day to come together.

“I think it’s a really good idea,” said Student Senator Kyle Frazier, a sophomore English major. “The referendum will provide time for students to join organizations and get school work done. Depending on what time of the day it is held at, it will give more reason for student involvement.” However, when Senator Frazier was asked about the initial impact the common hour would have on student involvement, he said that it may not immediately spur student desire to participate in campus activities.

Those engaged in student organizations remain optimistic about the free time the common hour will provide during the day but skeptical about how it will be introduced to the university. Forreste McCormick, a junior English major, residential assistant in Gorham and president of the student organization Circle K said that “people shouldn’t be forced to get involved; however, they should be offered the opportunity to do so in a way that is more accessible to students as a whole.”

“As president of Circle K,” McCormick went on to say, “I still view the common hour as a good thing for student organizations. From a student’s perspective, I would feel like I was getting more out of my college career and creating connections with other colleagues. I do not see a lot of negative aspects in this referendum and I would vote for it.”

However, some of the possible effects of the referendum remain unresolved, and others have the potential to negatively affect the university experience for students. One issue is that there is not yet a scheduled time for the common hour to take place during the school day. This will only be decided if the student body turns out and votes for the new measure during the school elections. Then, the Student and Faculty Senates will determine what time they believe will best suit the university’s schedule.

“Unfortunately, we don’t know the logistics of the referendum,” said Senator Frazier. “The question is only to see if students would be in favor of having a common hour at all. The Student Senate and faculty won’t decide the specifics until after the vote.”

The SGA is trying its best to raise voting levels within the student body. SGA members have put up posters in the Brooks Center cafeteria on the Gorham campus to promote student involvement and campaign fliers can be seen scattered around dorms and academic buildings. Senator Frazier is resolute in his ambition to get more students voting and reminds students in all of his classes to vote on March 19.

One set period of time during the day might not work for the entire university, either. While McCormick said she would like to have the common hour at noon, when most students are having lunch and already socializing, Emily Boutin, a junior Russian major who plays on the university’s tennis team thinks that it would work better at four in the afternoon. On the whole, however, Boutin doesn’t believe that the common hour will increase student involvement.

“I think the time will end up wasted because an hour isn’t very long. People will probably end up taking a nap or doing their own thing that is unrelated to school,” said Boutin. “USM would also have to work to reschedule their class times and that would be a big process.”

Boutin lives on the Gorham campus and has all of her classes in Portland. She relies on the shuttle bus to get to class and believes that the common hour would prolong her school day. The shuttle bus departure and arrival times are set up to work around the university’s current class schedule, and adding the common hour might require the university to rework that schedule in a way that is inconvenient for Boutin and other students.

“I would not vote for it,” Boutin said. “I would prefer extracurricular activities around the schedule I already created. I think the students that will see the real benefit from the common hour, if it is passed, are the ones in student organizations.”

Jerry LaSala, chair of the physics department and Faculty Senate, disagrees with Boutin. He has seen initiatives similar to the common hour applied to universities in the United Kingdom and thinks that USM could benefit from incorporating it into the school day.

“In principle, I think it’s a good idea — one that I’ve encouraged the university to consider many times over the years,” said LaSala. “At English universities, pretty much everything stops twice a day: at 11:00  for ‘elevenses,’ a universal coffee break, and again at 4:00 or 4:30 for tea. At these times, students, faculty, staff and visitors all get together for half an hour or so of conversation. It is a fantastic venue for the exchange of ideas and getting to know your colleagues and adds greatly to the sociability of university life.”

“The fundamental problem is scheduling,” LaSala added. “Proposals like this have been floated before — by me and others — but USM is a large and complex institution, and so far scheduling difficulties have gotten in the way of applying a common hour to the university’s school day. I don’t think it will give me more free time than I already have, although what it would do is make my free time coincide with everyone else’s, allowing that kind of mingling I mentioned before.”

Without solid logistics on the common hour, LaSala was unable to give further information on how the Student and Faculty Senates would work to apply the referendum into the the school day if the student body shows support.