Alex had a post on his blog yesterday about academic workspaces that got me to thinking about both the CCCCs for 2011 and the impending vacating of Pray-Harrold that is about to happen. (BTW, Alex: what’s that thing to the right of your laptop? And why don’t you put up a poster or something in there?)
Pray-Harrold is the building where my department (English Language and Literature) is located. It is by far the largest building on campus, seven stories of lecture halls, classrooms, and offices. Something like 500-700 faculty and staff have offices in there, and around 10,000 students are in and out of the building every day. This explains one of the somewhat unusual quirks of working in this department: while faculty at most universities routinely teach in different buildings, almost all of my department’s classes have been taught in Pray-Harrold for the last forty years. I have very senior colleagues who have never taught anywhere else on campus.
Built in 1969, I believe the technical term for the current state of Pray-Harrold is “shit hole.” Not unlike many academic buildings, especially those housing things like English, History, Philosophy, and Political Science, Pray-Harrold has been long-neglected and often complained about, and with good reason. But now, after years and years of discussion, Pray-Harrold is finally going to be renovated, a project that will not be enough but that will be better than nothing. I guess. But that’s a slightly different conversation.
In any event, Alex’s post and the CCCC’s call for proposals is on my mind with all this for a couple of different reasons. Everyone who currently occupies Pray-Harrold, those hundreds of staff and faculty who have offices that they use or don’t use, are being moved from the building by the end of this month to various locations around campus for about 18 or so months. Needless to say, this is all causing a lot of “contested space” discussions on campus. The English department is going to be occupying about 6 floors of a dorm on campus. The main department office (including the department printers/photocopiers) is going to be on the ground floor, which means I am not looking forward to printing much of anything. All of the teaching that used to be under one roof are going to be all over the place, and very senior colleagues (and many not so senior ones too) are already grousing about the fact that they will actually be forced to go out of doors during the Michigan winter.
My school office is not unlike Alex’s, at least in how its used. I have posters, pictures, toys, and other various bric-a-brac, including a four foot inflatable Scream doll, but I do most of my work at home or in coffee shops; like Alex, my main use for my school office is to meet with students. I do have colleagues who do actually use their offices as “an office,” and I have one colleague who will go unnamed who has an office that has an unreasonable amount of paper and books and just junk. How to describe it… well, if I had kept every scrap of paper and/or book I read or wrote over the last 22 years, from the time I started as a graduate assistant to now, every student draft and test and quiz, every chunk of my dissertation with revision comments, every stupid memo and strategic planning and/or outcome report, everything, then I might have an office that looks a bit like this person’s office.
The contentiousness of space isn’t limited to those of us who are going to be in exile, either. The Pray-Harrold remodeling is going to disrupt the entire campus, and there already have been “turf war” squabbles among different divisions/colleges who don’t want to let the unwashed Pray-Harrold masses into their buildings to teach or (God forbid!) to have offices. Computer lab teaching spaces are going to be sketchy at best, and we’ve already run into some problems of classes being scheduled in closets.
So yeah, contested spaces.
I’m not entirely sure how this will (or really if it will) play out as a CCCCs proposal yet, in part because it would be a proposal about what is to come next year, always a potentially difficult to sketch out this far in advance. We’ll see; I’m mulling it over in my own head and with some of my colleagues here.
As far as the office in exile and beyond goes: stay tuned, but I think working (sort of) in the dorms might be okay for a year or so. Since there is no air-conditioning, the spring/summer terms in there will be pretty intolerable. On the other hand, it’ll be closer to the EMU Student Center than Pray-Harrold, and since these dorm rooms are suites, the bathroom comforts ought to be pretty nice. It’s hard to know what will come next when we move back after the construction, but I am thinking very much about a set-up without a desk and with some comfy furniture, a shelf or two, and a table, a space more conducive for how I use the place as it is now.