The Building Blues (or, Yet Another Reasons to Teach and Take Online Classes)

There’s a discussion going on right now on the Tech-Rhet mailing list started by Bradley Bleck, who was looking for ideas for the “ideal” technology-friendly academic building. I don’t know all the details, but they are apparently in the planning stages at Spokane Falls Community College (where Bradley teaches) for a new and (hopefully) state-of-the-art building. Bradley said they are planning completition for 2011, so the challenge will be to not equip the place with things that seem like a good idea now but then quickly become obsolete. For example, when EMU built Halle Library, they spent a lot of money on ethernet cables and ports. They turned on a wireless network and turned off the wires about two years after the building opened.

Anyway, good for the folks at Spokane Falls CC. But I have to say that it makes me feel all the more worse about the situation here.

Now, don’t get me wrong– EMU is a great place to work. I believe in the mission and purpose of the university (though it is shifting all the time), I think we have great and interesting students, and I have incredible colleagues. Plus EMU is in a really interesting part of the country: close enough to Detroit to get access to “big city” activities, and right next to Ann Arbor, which means even easier access to one of the coolest college towns in the country. It really is a fantastic gig and I’m really happy to be here.

But (there’s always a but)….

I think there are two seemingly chronic and closely related problems with my job as a faculty member in the English department. First, parking is a pain in the ass, mostly because of the many commuting students at EMU but also because there just isn’t enough parking near the building I work in for all the faculty and staff who work there and in nearby buildings. But parking, that’s another post.

Second, the building where I work, Pray-Harrold, is one of the worse academic buildings I have ever been in, and it is by far one of the most unpleasant buildings where I’ve had an office. Built in an era in which the thinking was “bigger is better,” the seven-story behemoth has 75 classrooms and lots of offices and is still far too small for the thousands of people who use it every day. It was built in 1969, long before these new-fangled computer things, and the result is it is woefully ill-prepared for anything beyond chalkboard technologies. And beyond all that, the place is just generally falling apart.

Earlier in the semester, I was cautiously optimistic about the future of Pray-Harrold because the new president came in saying this was an important priority and because the Board of Regents approved a tuition hike that would be used specifically to help pay for remodeling Pray-Harrold. But the Provost and the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences came to a department meeting earlier this week, just when the discussion about the ideal building came up on Tech-Rhet, and, without going into unnecessary detail, this visit put a damper on all that. For one thing, it looks like the money EMU was hoping to get from the state is simply not going to materialize.

For another, even if we do get at least most of the money we’re asking for, it sounds like they are literally going to do a half-assed job by focusing on the first four floors of the building. Now, it is true that this is where most of the classrooms in the building are located and it is probably where most of the remodeling needs to take place. However, there are plenty of classrooms on the other three floors, and the top three floors of the building are also where the faculty offices (including mine) are located.

Interestingly enough, the Dean’s office is on the fourth floor. Oh, and it’s also worth mentioning that, as far as I can tell, the administration has not asked for any input on Pray-Harrold reconstrcution from any faculty members.

In short, they were hoping to spend $50-60 million dollars on remodeling, but it looks like we’ll have significantly less than that to work with. But even if they could spend that much money on remodeling, it would certainly not help enough. So while the discussion on Tech-Rhet about ideal building configuration wish lists rages on (wireless networks, plenty of outlets, projectors, sensible lighting, moveable furniture, comfortable chairs, etc., etc., etc.), we’re stuck, and, unless something really unexpected happens, it looks to me that I’ll be working in Pray-Harrold in the current configuration for pretty much the rest of my career.

And I’m left with two thoughts. First, because the reality is EMU is unlikely to do the right thing about Pray-Harrold, my wish list is a bit more modest. Here’s what I want:

  • Furniture that isn’t broken and/or that is not as old as the average student’s parents.
  • Lighting, wall coverings, paint and decor that looks a bit less like a prison.
  • Windows that open. Or, in the case of my office and many of the classrooms, any window at all.
  • Floors that actually get swept and mopped once in a while.
  • Elevators that routinely work instead of the other way around (though I must say that my “marching up and down the stairs” exercise routine has been good for my calves).
  • Bathrooms that don’t routinely have standing water on the floor.
  • Some version of a heating/cooling system that actually maintains a normal temperature and that does not seem to have been designed by a climate schizophrenic (it is not at all uncommon to have a 20 or 30 degree temperature shift between rooms on the same floor).
  • An electrical outlet that doesn’t come up out of the middle of the freakin’ floor (which it does in my office).

Second, this is yet another reason why teaching online makes good sense for both teachers and students at EMU.

2 thoughts on “The Building Blues (or, Yet Another Reasons to Teach and Take Online Classes)”

  1. funny, i have almost the exact same post on my blog–except , without the insider data and no one tells me anything. they just boss me around a lot, really.

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