At their campus-wide Town Meeting on Wednesday, October 6, the students, faculty and staff of Marlboro College will debate an issue that's emerging as one of the country's most provocative and divisive social concerns: cellular-phone etiquette.
The crunchy liberal-arts college in Marlboro, Vermont -- featured prominently in this year's Princeton Review College Guide as a place where professors bring their subject matter to life and students never stop studying -- has barely 350 students. Every three weeks, the entire student body, faculty and staff gather in one room to discuss and vote on how the school should be run. At their next meeting, they'll consider a resolution restricting cell-phone use to private quarters, such as dorm rooms and offices.
Eric Verkerke, a 21-year-old sophomore from Charlottesville, Virginia, submitted the resolution after several "cells" went off in his classes during the first week of school. Saying he doesn't have anything against cell phones per se, Verkerke points out that the resolution wouldn't ban them from school but would limit where they could be used. "People just assume there are no restrictions on when it's polite and when it's impolite," he says. Verkerke hopes to keep the phones out of classrooms, eating areas and widely used public spaces. "I think [cell-phone use] breaks up some of the sense of community and social atmosphere," he suggests, "to have one person having a one-sided conversation in the middle of that."
Tina Forsee, a 22-year-old junior from Oklahoma City, disagrees. She thinks that cell phones should be switched off during classes, but allowed in case of emergency. She doesn't have a cell phone, but isn't bothered by other students' conversations. "It's just something that happens," Forsee says. "I think the argument is really irrational, and it comes from a fear of technology that's typical of Marlboro."
The controversy has attracted considerable media attention because of the college's reputation as a technophobic "hippie" institution -- students rejected an offer from the school president to provide campus access to satellite TV several years ago. Dean of Students Nancy Pike offers some perspective on the cell-phone debate: "If we get caught up in making it a silly college student story, we miss the point," she says. "We can live in conscientious communities. That, for me, is the real story."