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Monday, Jun 24, 2024

Struggles at 75 Shannon Street

<span class="photocreditinline"><a href="">SABINE POUX</a></span><br />Professor Sheridan has expressed concerns over privacy, noise and availability of materials in the 75 Shannon Street office space.
Professor Sheridan has expressed concerns over privacy, noise and availability of materials in the 75 Shannon Street office space.

Displaced professors working out of 75 Shannon Street this year have found that cubicles are not conducive to academic work. With the school-year well underway, faculty describe having difficulties working in the temporary space, largely due to limited privacy and noise issues.

As The Campus reported in March, the college built 75 Shannon Street to accommodate the growing computer science program, which has taken up residence indefinitely on the second floor, as well as to create a temporary space for faculty displaced by the construction to Monroe Hall, Warner Hall, and the other buildings that the college plans to renovate in next few years. This includes roughly 40 professors from the Religion, Political Science, Anthropology, Sociology, Interdepartmental, Economics and Modern Hebrew departments.

The first floor, where the displaced faculty now work, was designed to be flexible. Faculty on this floor work out of cubicles, which are organized by department.

The design, however, has some downsides for those faculty. Perhaps the greatest challenge professors cited was that the new set up changes how they interact with their students. In Munroe, professors could conduct private conversations with students about grades or other personal issues in their offices; at Shannon Street, privacy is harder to guarantee.

“In instances in which students come in and they want to talk about personal stuff, it’s a little more difficult for them to feel comfortable doing so on an open floor,” Political Science Professor Matt Dickinson said. Both Dickinson and his cubicle-mate, Political Science Professor Gary Winslet, make it a point to let students know that they can meet elsewhere if they want to talk about confidential matters. 

Many faculty members are coping by holding their office hours in the building’s conference rooms, which they say is not a perfect solution.

“We’ve got the choice of complete privacy in a box or we’ve got the choice of a door open, possibly bothering other people,” Anthropology Professor Mike Sheridan said, noting that some students might feel intimidated to be in such tight quarters with their professors. 

Sheridan is in favor of adding a window with a shade to the door of the conference room, to create a balance of privacy and visibility. 

For some students, being in the conference rooms has changed the dynamics of office hours.

“I don’t think the quality of conversations have changed,” Mollie Smith ’20 said. “But I do think that [the student-teacher relationship] feels a lot more clinical because of the environment.”

The first floor’s layout also poses another major obstacle: noise. Given how open the space is, noise tends to carry, and there is no option of shutting a door when conversations get loud. Many professors told The Campus that they are very conscious about how their conversations might disturb the work-flow of their neighbors. Some, such as Political Science Professor Murray Dry, have turned to noise-canceling headphones to shut out the sound.

Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration David Provost acknowledged that the noise is a disturbance, but said that it is a “short-term inconvenience to accelerate their ability to move back into a new space.” Ultimately, no faculty will be in the Shannon Street building for longer than nine months. 

While the floor is sometimes too loud to be productive, at other times, it is silent for one simple reason: the professors are gone. Unlike other buildings, where professors might spend more time in their offices and therefore be more accessible to students, faculty report they spend less time in their cubicles than they would in an office. 

“No one is here most of the time,” Sociology Professor Linus Owens said. “They’re only here when they absolutely have to be.”

Dickinson has also seen less of his colleagues. In his department of 18 or 19, he said, he sees maybe three people regularly. Dry, who prefers to work in the evenings, said that on a recent afternoon he had to turn the lights on when he entered, as there was nobody there. 

Having fewer teachers around on a day-to-day basis can have repercussions on departmental cohesion and communication. Some professors feel that they should not drop in on their colleagues to casually chat even when they are at their cubicles because it would not only bother them but it would also bother their neighbors. Others have started relying more heavily on email in lieu of quick down-the-hall office visits.

For many, working at their cubicles simply is not the most productive way to work. Owens, Sheridan, Dickinson and many of their colleagues prefer to do their serious research and writing outside of Shannon Street. This is due both to the noise and available materials. 

“I cannot write here, simply because I don’t have all the resources,” Sheridan said, who prefers to write from home.

In Munroe, Sheridan had hundreds of books on his office shelves, as did Owens and Dickinson. Dry said he had thousands. For now, the majority of their books have been relegated to storage units, home garages, boxes on cubicle floors and Armstrong Library, while the books required for current classes fill their cubicle shelves. Dickinson, for example, said he has approximately 12 books on his shelf, with more packed away in boxes below. Not only are books not available for research, they are also not as easily on hand to offer students as references. 

On the whole, faculty agree that their situation is not ideal. Although they understand that the challenges they are facing not permanent, they look forward to moving back into the new, improved, and accessible Munroe.