Verbum Ultimum: Wasted Time

Students need free time to thrive and create.

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 5/26/17 12:45am

Opportunities for independent creation, the most important of which is simply free time, have become rarer and rarer on college campuses. Dartmouth, like most higher education institutions, would surely like to produce more acclaimed writers, more lauded artists, more successful entrepreneurs and more vaunted musicians. However, the next Donna Tartt or Vampire Weekend is unlikely to come out of institutionalized creativity. Armed with the necessary resources, students will create, not because they are told to, but because they want to.

Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network, to a certain extent, provides some resources necessary for student entrepreneurs. If nothing else, it organizes a dedicated space and time for creativity. Those same resources may be harder for artists to access. The creative spaces at the Black Family Visual Arts Center are generally open only to those currently enrolled in classes that utilize those specific spaces. Musicians by hobby can be underserved; those not directly affiliated with the music department are limited to some isolated studios in the Jones Media Center and practice rooms in the Hopkins Center for the Arts.

On the other hand, resources like the wood shop and jewelry studio are beneficial for students looking to exercise their creative habits. Dartmouth’s student body would benefit from the establishment of more spaces for creativity. It is impossible to institutionalize art or innovation effectively on a college campus. These effects will propagate only when there is an abundance of resources and free time in which students can pursue their interests, passions and whims. Such whims may in fact become the most important work done at the College, but to access those potentialities, Dartmouth’s leadership must step back from objective rubrics of success. It is impossible to guarantee a conventional return on investment from a free flowing of creative impulses, but taking this risk is necessary. Dartmouth should provide necessary resources, step back and let the combination of free time and intellectual and artistic passions flourish.

Government professor Julie Rose’s 2016 book “Free Time” addressed many of these concerns. She argued that citizens in any society require free time not devoted to work or to meeting the basic necessities of life. At Dartmouth, the “basic necessities” are the requirements for courses and the heavy extracurricular loads that are expected of modern college students. Students need, in the words of architect and systems theorist Buckminster Fuller, to “think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.” Free time is thus not a reduction in intellectual activity but an increase in such activity in a self-directed and creative situation.

Some activities may even seem antithetical to productivity. Is going for a walk around Occom Pond productive? Perhaps not — in the short term. But in the long term, such a walk can generate creative energies, ideas and projects. It can also, simply, clear the headspace of a student who badly needs a break. But students would not gain that creative impetus if they had no free time or severely limited free time. Opening up the option to take walks in nature also opens up the opportunity to grow creatively from those experiences. The same is true of more time spent reading for pleasure, going to films at the Hop or any of a dozen other activities that are not, at face value, “productive.”

One way to build greater creative freedom on Dartmouth’s system is through a system of micro-grants to students. By offering students easily accessible grants of $200, $300 or $500 with creative, leisure time-based proposals on how to use the money and a straightforward application process, the College could help build creative potential. The money could be spent on art supplies, for travel to an inspiring destination or production expenses. The returns on these investments will not be immediate, and they may never be crystal clear. Maybe just one student in a thousand will become the next Mindy Kaling ’01, Jake Tapper ’91 or Shonda Rhimes ’91. But by investing in its students’ creativity and individual drive, Dartmouth would allow them to blossom, to build based on their own interests and passions — embracing the College’s potential as an interdisciplinary creative campus and its students’ potential as innovators.

Creating a genuinely spontaneous, creative culture where résumé building and structured time are only one part of a more fulfilling and interesting life is essential for Dartmouth. The College should provide resources to creators — then let them create. Attempting to regulate and institutionalize students’ creativity ultimately hurts all involved and creates a less healthy, less fulfilled campus.

The editorial board consists of the opinion staff, the opinion editor, both executive editors and the editor-in-chief.

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