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The cell phone rules

Profs don't want them ringing in class, but there are good reasons for students to have them

Tuesday, February 26, 2002

By Jane Elizabeth, Post-Gazette Education Writer

University of Pittsburgh professor Harry Kloman has a ready response when a student's cell phone rings during class.

"I turn to the student, shoot him a stern look and say, 'That better be for me,' " Kloman said.

And that takes care of that.

Other college professors make an anti-cell phone speech on the first day of class, or even include cell phone rules on the class syllabus. Not Kloman, though. "I have every other rule in the book on my syllabus," he said. "I guess it just goes without saying that you don't talk on the phone in class."

But for younger college students who've grown up on cell phones and pagers, the rules sometimes aren't so clear. Cell phones turn up everywhere these days -- during the opening ceremonies of this year's Olympics, for instance, when a young athlete chatted on the phone with her mother and even handed the phone to President Bush. So why not a campus classroom?

Senior Charlotte Tucker, who will graduate from Pitt in April, isn't a huge cell phone fan. She's had one in the past, but not now.

"I have a big lecture class, about 300 people, and in about an hour and 20 minutes, two to three phones go off in the class," said the communications major. "If it ever goes off during an exam I'll probably impale someone with a pencil."

Point Park College Professor Linda Mann tries to thwart that possibility with her no-cell phone policy on her syllabus ("unless you're in the medical profession," it reads.) The policy was prompted by a workshop leader who once told Mann about the constant cell phones eruptions during her presentations.

Once, said Mann, a workshop participant "not only answered her phone but began to hold a conversation while this poor woman was trying to lead a class. She said she walked up to where the person was sitting, stood right in front of her, but to no avail -- she just kept right on talking on her cell phone. How rude.

"That story stuck with me. I never wanted my class to be disrupted like that. I don't think it's fair to other students."

Erin Brachlow, a Pitt junior, said she tries to remember to put her cell phone on the vibrate function when she's out in public, so that it won't disturb classmates or fellow bus passengers. Not everyone's so courteous.

"One time during a test, someone's cell phone rang to the tune of some top 40 song and everyone started laughing. It's a crazy time with these phones," she said. But like most college students, she doesn't plan to give it up.

Take away the obnoxious ringing, the inappropriate chattering in class, the risk of running up incredible bills -- and you'll actually find some sound reasons for college students to keep cell phones.

Safety is one reason cited by students who might be far from home in unfamiliar territory. And an easier, faster way to keep in touch with parents is another selling point.

If not for her cell phone, University of Virginia freshman Joanna Desmond "wouldn't call home, ever," she said. She'll e-mail her parents, but won't try to call from the dorm, where students often must deal with long-distance calling cards, roommates who don't take messages, and their own odd schedules. "It's just too inconvenient," Desmond said.

And, with a little freshman-math calculation, students have persuaded parents that certain cell phone plans can actually be cheaper than using dormitory phones.

It didn't take long for Greg Morril, a freshman at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., to figure it out.

It started when he worked out a deal with his parents: He'd pay the dorm phone bill, they pay the cell phone bill. But after one month of calling his parents in New York and Pittsburgh, not to mention his girlfriend back home, the dorm phone bill was more than $70.

"That's a ridiculous sum of money for a poor college student, so I decided that from now on I'd use my cell phone to call my girlfriend and my parents, said Morril.

Using the Internet, he went to cell phone Web sites and found a plan for $40 a month that included more than 4,000 minutes of local talk-time and free long-distance.

"I always thought that cell phones were expensive luxuries, but now I save a lot of money," he said. "Plus I have the convenience of being able to use my phone wherever I want."

With a little competitive shopping, students likely can find a cell phone plan that beats hooking up a phone in an off-campus apartment or even in a dorm room, depending on what's included in the campus room-and-board fee.

In Oakland, for instance, students flock to the relatively new Cricket cell phone store -- and not just to get their photo taken on the ubiquitous green couch used in the company's advertising. Cricket, which was voted "Best Cellular Phone Service" in the Pitt campus newspaper's recent best-and-worst-of-Oakland issue, offers an answer to some student phone problems.

For starters, students pay monthly, in advance -- which means they won't get stuck with a bill they can't pay because they inadvertently talked too much. For $32.95 a month, the students can make as many local phone calls as they like. And they can pre-pay for long-distance talking time, now 8 cents a minute.

Students must buy a phone, which ranges from $79.99 to $99.99, some of which come with a silent alert.

That's important to students like Desmond, who still is somewhat haunted by a story she heard at freshman orientation.

"Someone told us a professor took someone's cell phone when it rang in class, and threw it on the floor and stomped on it," she said. "I believed it."

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