Saturday, April 17, 2010

Campus Geographies

We're in the planning stages for a new building. We've been through nearly a decade of preparation, begging the state and such already, but now we're actually planning the building. And it looks like the English department is going to move, so it matters to me.

And the stupidity in planning over at the Fort is rampant.

Here's one issue: The past dean, but maybe not the current "interim but maybe not really" dean, thought that working across and between traditional disciplinary boundaries was going to be the future, and so we talked about ways to do that.

The big metaphor around here (and elsewhere) is the "silo." Each academic field is imagined as a silo (I'm never sure when I think about it if we're a nuclear silo or a farming silo, because the metaphor seems sort of odd to me, but imagine for a moment, a farming silo). Each department lives in it's own individual, highly self-contained ivory silo, and doesn't mix it's grains of knowledge with the grains from another department. But the geography of departments, each on a separate floor, perhaps clustered in separate buildings, reinforces the silo effect. We run into our department colleagues in the lunch room, but we don't run into colleagues from the floor above or below. However, it does make some sense to house people who depend on the same office staff, chair, copier, printer and such near each other, on the same floor or wing.

Now, if you're building a new building, you have some opportunities to break that separation down. Maybe you work to spread people innovatively? Maybe you create shared spaces?

Yesterday, at our meeting, we discussed the new building and got a handout on building planning. Each of the departments moving over will have it's own very distinct spaces.

Someone asked: can we have a shared lunch space?

No, we're told, each space must belong to a specific department. No shared spaces!

Because, evidently, that makes sense. There can be no space for people to interact.

Here's another issue: Our current teaching spaces are ugly. Since they're ours, we've sometimes added some art posters to walls. And we've got dictionaries on rolly stands in most of our rooms. (And yes, I use them at least once in each class every semester, and sometimes way more.)

We have difficulty getting our students to feel a sense of community as majors, too. There's no real common space for them to be, unlike, say, art majors or physics majors, who have some common spaces. And we have a lot of majors, so welcoming them into our small lunchroom doesn't seem practical.

Then we looked at the classroom spaces. There are three departments moving over; each one typically has smaller rather classes rather than large lectures. Think, say, English (our largest classes run 35, but that may go up, of course), Foreign Languages, and Education. Three of the rooms are designated education labs--elementary math, elementary something else, and something else. Other than that, there's no designation. But, there's also no classroom space designed for a class of under 70.

Someone asked: Is there any way we can get a couple of seminar spaces, since we have senior seminars and that would be helpful?

No, we're told. You can't have any designated spaces, but you'll be able to use the elementary school training labs sometimes, when the ed folks aren't using them.

Right. We're supposed to run senior seminars in a room set up as a mock 3rd grade math lab? And that's going to be conducive to talking about Milton or whatever?

Someone asked: Why aren't there smaller classrooms since none of the departments that will be housed in the building needs a 150 person lecture hall?

The administration answered: You have to get over the idea of having your own classrooms in your own building. You'll have classes in another building.

So who will be using these large lecture halls? People from other buildings will come use them.

Right. I have an idea. We should test the feasibility of having everyone moving around campus to different buildings by having every administrative meeting for the next year held outside the Fort. Yep, let's ask the administrators to walk five minutes in one direction for one meeting, then five minutes in another direction for another, and see if they find that efficient.

It's not the going outside, it's that we've got 500 instructors, many of whom will be adding five minutes to each end of class time for all their classes. Are we going to count all the walking as contributing to our collective health? And how much time will we spend in this walking that we could spend talking to students, grading, prepping, whatever?

And you know that when they have a 100 person lecture hall, they'll find some class that was had three sections of 30, and fire two instructors and make the remaining instructor teach 100 students at a time. And no, we don't have PhD programs to abusively supply endless TAs and graders. And according to the rules, we're not allowed to have our few grad students teach or grade. (That's the privilege of the R1s in this system.)

I wonder if my chair would be willing to write me a letter of recommendation? I saw a community college job listing yesterday that seemed tempting.


  1. Anonymous8:37 AM

    Are you suggesting that things would be different at a cc or the same?

    Just curious;-)

  2. Anonymous10:34 AM

    "let's ask the administrators to walk five minutes in one direction for one meeting, then five minutes in another direction for another, and see if they find that efficient"


    I have no idea how our campus is planned, to be honest. There are people from different schools in rooms all over the place, with no sense of rhyme nor reason. We almost never get to teach in the classrooms in the buildings where our offices are housed.

  3. AnnieEm, It means I saw an ad in the JIL for a CC job that looks attractive to me. I'm sure it has plenty of its own problems, of course.

    Ink, I think we should question the whole "planned" thing around here. We're very reactive rather than strategic or proactive.

  4. Heh! We're planning a new building and the discussion goes like this:
    Registrar: Well, we need classes of 120, 150, 210.
    Fac Rep(after consultation) Faculty really think it would be helpful to have more classrooms of 90-120
    Reg: We need 200

    Then the question is -- stadium seating or rolling chairs (our only options) And when the faculty say 120 students on rolling chairs is terrible, they say, But we want it flexible....


  5. Anonymous7:58 AM

    B: I took the cc thing as sarcasm. Sorry. I'm a defensive cc defender.

    But yes, we have the exact same conversations/issues at my cc as it seems you all do. A computerized system determines which classrooms we get, and ironically, since most classrooms hold over 35 chairs, we in composition often end up "room-less" because our classes are capped at 26. You can guess what the administration is thinking about now.....

    We sometimes get to teach in the same building, but not always. Of course the buildings are "managed" by whichever dept. is "housed" in them, which leads to lots of interdisciplinary fighting over who stole all the whiteboard pens;-)

  6. I'm still thinking about the silos. They're toxic and farm folks would know that! People die when they fall in and can't get air.

  7. AnnieEm, No worries. I'm sure you hear a lot of unkind comments from folks not familiar with CCs. I studied at a CC for a year and a half, and am eternally grateful for the wonderful instructors and the opportunities the institution gave me. But you couldn't know that.

    This job seems to be in a wonderful geographic location, pay about what I earn here, and have about the same teaching load (though differently balanced). Really, I'm guessing they'll have hundreds of applications, many from folks WAY more qualified than I for the job.

  8. Anonymous11:17 AM

    B: (comment box doesn't like me---I'm trying this again, but more briefly): Apply. We already set up our interviews for the next few weeks, and we deliberately looked for a mix of applicants: those with cc experience, those without; those with a lot of teaching experience; those with "promise". But what really wowed us were those who clarified explicitly in their cover letters why they think they would be suited, because of their talents/skills/experience/love of the mission, etc for a position at a community college.