The pungent smell of burning marijuana mingled with the sweet scent of springtime on the mall at the University of Maryland yesterday, as the last hold-outs of a tent-city demonstration against rising dormitory fees faded into a crowd celebrating an annual smoke-in.
By noon, some still talked of the discouraging economic conditions affecting student life at the school's main campus in College Park, but many more in the crowd of nearly 600 joined under the bright clear sky to sing songs, loft frisbees and soak up a generally good, high time.
The night before, a ragtag brigade of students dressed in army surplus had "declared war" on the university administration, "seized" the mall and set up tents at the east end in front of the administration buildings.
They said they wanted to do battle with university officials who had raised dormitory fees in next year's budget to the equivalent of $210 per month. But they met no resistance.
"If the rents continue to go up, as they have, then we'll have to find alternative housing--like tents," said Steve Raley, student government association president and one of the commandos.
One of the last two tents bobbing in a sea of Grateful Dead t-shirts, shorts and halter tops yesterday was S. Patrick Nunan's yellow bubble. It was the same tent in which he had camped in the woods just north of the campus from January to April last year as his way of avoiding dorm costs.
The dormitory rent, for two students sharing a room, is being increased from $312 a month to $420 ($210 per person). "It's not worth it," said Nunan, a senior English major, ". . . sharing a bathroom with 35 other people."
University officials said they had no choice but to raise the fees. In 1972, according to William (Bud) Thomas, vice chancellor for student affairs, the state legislature began a 10-year phase-out of tax support for student housing and food services. "This year," he said, "we're paying for the whole bill."
Part of the dorm fees will be used for dormitory renovations in coming years that will include a new heating system that "will dramatically improve our energy efficiency," according to Thomas.
Students had heard about that, and said yesterday they took little comfort in paying for improvements they will never see. Laura A. Barish, a senior dance major, took time out from singing along with a guitarist on the lawn to list her reasons for leaving the high-rise dorm where she used to live.
"I lived in Cumberland (Hall) two years ago," she said. "The rent was too high. Two women were raped there. One woman's face was beaten in while she was doing her laundry. There was no security.
"You get no choice of roommates," Barish continued, "and for the first two years, you have to eat in the dining hall. And dining hall food stinks. Is that enough?"
Unlike some previous smoke-ins, yesterday there were no police, and very little in the way of visible or vocal politics. A few students wearing ERA pins roved through the crowd, selling carob-chip cookies. And a junior architecture student who identified himself as "Adam," held a crayoned cardboard sign that said "Decriminalize Marijuana." He estimated that 2,000 to 3,000 joints had been rolled, many donated from home-grown crops.
"It's more a celebration than a protest," he said. "It's a dumb thing not to legalize pot. But most of the liberal people in Congress are putting their efforts into keeping the country afloat."
Adam predicted that the legalization of marijuana will become a lively issue again sometime, "but right now," he said, "it's a beautiful spring day."