Somerville students ordered to have ‘quiet time’

Image Description: A photo of Somerville College overlooking their main quad.

Somerville College has imposed a quiet time on students ‘due to the lack of study space and so that students can study quietly in their room’.  In an email sent out to students, the College said these measures will be in place from 9 am-12 pm and 2 pm-5 pm on weekdays. Failure to comply with these rules will result in a formal warning, with any further offence resulting in a £100 fine.

A spokesperson for the college explained this decision, saying:

“Somerville has long required students to be considerate to their peers who may be trying to study in their rooms by limiting noise disruption at certain times of the day. Given that the pandemic has made many study spaces unavailable, we have expanded our quiet hours this term to ensure that our students can have the environment they need to learn and rest.”

Current UK Government guidelines permit you to meet with people you don’t live with in groups up to 6, although ‘if your household (and/or support bubble) is larger than 6 people, this is your largest permitted group and you cannot meet as a group with any additional people.’ At Somerville, students from different households within College are also not permitted to mix in student accommodation, with a failure to comply resulting in a £100 fine, with the fine rising to £200 for any repeat offence. 

The College’s spokesperson continued,

“While we want our students to enjoy all the opportunities of an Oxford education, we have an important duty to protect the wellbeing of our community, including students, academics, support staff, and the wider city.

“Like the vast majority of colleges, we have taken the difficult decision not to allow our members to host guests in Somerville this term due to the considerable risks this poses. This policy applies without discrimination to students, academics, support staff and senior management alike. 

“Exceptions are only made for a very small number of members living in a single-person household, who may have a visitor or join another household in the college.”

A current Somerville undergraduate told the Oxford Student that the introduction of quiet hours was ‘very excessive…greatly diminishing the student experience’ and that the harsh fines would be ‘regressive’ if enforced. Another student at the College added that ‘I can imagine that a lot of students will get annoyed because now it’s not possible to have a normal chat on the quad. It looks like porters are walking around and tell everyone to go to their room regardless of whether they make noise or not – it feels like we are not allowed to be outside.’

These measures follow on from the University’s decision to circulate a ‘COVID-19 Student Agreement’ for all students to sign.  The Agreement instructs students to abide by ‘all national public health regulations’ as well as complying with ‘the University and/or colleges’ specific guidance on health measures’.

Colleges have varied in the extent to which they have imposed measures of their own. In a letter sent to students, Queen’s College’s Governing Body criticised the ‘patronising tone and the degree of minutiae’ contained in the agreement, with the Senior Tutor adding that ‘it’s not the university’s place to create rules for what happens in College’. Moreover, colleges such as Brasenose will permit students to admit guests into College. By contrast, anyone at Somerville caught bringing a non-member into College will result in a £100 fine, with a second offence escalating to a £200 fine and a student’s place at college being placed under review.

Speaking to the Oxford Student last week, the principal of Somerville College, Jan Royall, said that the reason colleges had different rules was because “not only are they autonomous, but they have different shapes and sizes, Balliol has large grounds, but Somerville has got half a building site on the quad at the moment.”

“Whilst we are trying to be consistent, we do have to take into consideration the individual nature of each and every college.”