In the Archives: Creating ‘Free Hour’

Lindsey Loeper ’04, American Studies, is an archivist at UMBC’s Albin O. Kuhn Library & Gallery.

Lindsey LoeperI believe understanding our shared history enables and empowers us to work together to build the UMBC of our hopes. “In the Archives” is my series highlighting the ways people have co-created this campus and its traditions.

In response to my very first “In the Archives” post, UMBC staff member Delana Gregg suggested that I write about the history of UMBC’s Free Hour, the hour without scheduled classes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. That struck me as a strange idea, because the free hour is, at face value, a gap in the schedule; the real story, it seemed to me, was what took place during free hour: the club meetings, rehearsals, brainstorming and creative work. But as it turns out, free hour has a fascinating story of its own.

TRW19700324_01.pdfIn 1970, a group of students formed a Student Union to address what it called the “power structure” of the university, and provide an alternative to SGA as a source of direct action and advocacy. “Participants in the ‘movement’, as many have called it, are free to work within or around the system, or to provoke the system’s leaders into a direct confrontation. Everyone is responsible to himself; no one claims responsibility to anyone else” (The Retriever, March 24, 1970: page 3).

The Student Union held widely-attended meetings, protested what they viewed as unfair restrictions on the student literary magazine, and submitted three requests to the Faculty Senate. The first: independent groups should have the right to solicit on campus (they did, and still do). The second and most controversial: abolish the student activity fee (the Faculty Senate initially approved the request, but the fee remains in place). The third: establish a free and unscheduled hour for student assembly, organization, and advising (request granted).

And so, the following fall semester, Free Hour as we now know it began at UMBC, scheduled on each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 1:00 – 2:00 p.m. (it moved to the noon hour in 2005). In increasing numbers, club meetings, lectures, and campus events began to take place during those hours. While class-free hours during the day are a rarity in higher education, UMBC’s tradition has endured despite repeated conversations about the pressures it creates on UMBC’s finite number of classroom spaces during the remaining hours each day.

The Retriever did not cover the Free Hour’s establishment, but has featured stories on occasional talk of modifying or eliminating it. In each instance both UMBC students and faculty have voiced support for maintaining the free hour, with one sophomore arguing that “Abolishing free hour abolishes what little time students have to interact, which in and of itself is an educational experience.”

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Contact the author, Lindsey Loeper, at (410) 455-6290 or lloepe1@umbc.edu.

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Comments

  1. fascinating, thanks for finding this! makes me even more supportive of free hour, now that i know its origins!

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