|The vision of the A-400 building. But inside, faculty|
offices without adequate space for books.
Understandably, this building means a great deal. The development and planning process has been ongoing, with the usual challenges. However, the faculty office design process has been especially frustrating and disappointing (others would use—and do use—less mild terms). February 7 was the last meeting on this issue with the faculty who would spend the next 10-20-30 years in those offices. Now the deadline is here and the options or the discussion or the input that was promised in order to make this work for the people who will work there has all but vanished.
But let someone who know how to say it better, say it. Rebel Girl asks you to consider this letter, written by Professor Steve Felder and sent to Academic Senate President Kathy Schmeidler and shared here with his permission. (Emphases mine, says Rebel Girl).
I attended the senate meeting today in hopes of seeking support from the senate in gaining faculty input for the furnishing design of the new A-400 building. I was disappointed both that we ran out of time and by the fact that you had the impression that Glenn [Roquemore, IVC President] was open to faculty input on this issue and was not going to enforce a particular standard. I believe this claim is false. While Glenn may be sincere in his claim, he is mistaken; there is no openness to anything but a few minor changes in the design.
Others can speak to their concerns (related to color scheme, etc.), but I want to represent an issue that deeply concerns me and some of my colleagues in the School of Humanities. It relates to the insistence of [Director of Facilities] John Edwards on outfitting each office with two enormous, L-shaped desks to be bolted to the walls. The effect of this will be that even though the new offices will be slightly larger than the ones we have now, we will have even less space for bookshelves than we have in A200. Claims that nothing can be done seem insincere. I have been to many community college campuses in this state, and I assure you there is no requirement for us to drop these two enormous desks in every faculty office in every community college in the state.
I realize that not all disciplines rely on books to the degree that we do in the Humanities. I have no doubt that some disciplines communicate primarily through symposia, articles, etc., but for us, in the Humanities, the book is still the primary mode of scholarly discussion. To be a competent professional requires us to read, study, and re-read many books on a constant basis.
Perhaps some assume that because we are not required to publish, as are our colleagues in the UC's and CSU's, that we don't need to read. This is absurd. In some sense, our work requires more reading since we are not able to specialize to the same degree they are. Just in the last 48 hours I've taught Euripides, Fashion Theory, Deconstruction, the Use of Lacan's concept of "suture" in film analysis, Hitchcock's Rebecca, and Sartre. Some classes, like World History to 1500, require an expertise that is incredibly broad: Homo Habilius and the Han Dynasty, Chaco Canyon and Charlemagne, the Aztecs and the Abbasids, etc. The range of primary sources and theoretical approaches required to do my job is MORE intensive, and requires MORE reading than that required of my colleagues at UCI. You would think my college (and its administration) would value this hard work and support it. You would think they would WANT us to be readers, who were constantly engaged in our subject, continually revising lectures and assignments instead of repackaging the same tired old ideas from a graduate seminar we were in 20 years ago. Instead, one administrator actually told me that when the new A400 was completed I'd need to pack up my books and but them in my garage!
I park my car in my garage, and, as I've pointed out, I use my books, but there are good reasons for me not to take them home, but to keep them in my office.
|Admin to faculty: Put your books in your garage!|
Second, students benefit just from walking into our offices and encountering the overwhelming presence of all these volumes. For most of them, even our very brightest students, competence is achieved through Wikipedia articles and Googling. While Wikipedia and the hyperlinked exploration of various topics does have its place, there is another kind of engagement that is only possible with books. Some ideas and arguments can only be developed in three hundred pages. Some stories can only be told with the length of the novel. What students grasp instantly when stepping into our offices is that there is another way of exploring the world (of ideas) beyond online articles that can be digested in three minutes. Some ideas, some stories, require 10, or 15, or 20 hours of your time in order to fully engage them. Furthermore, some books and ideas demand you engage them with marks, and highlights, and comments in the margins. Some books want you to re-read them, at least parts of them, many, many times. Our students are not doing that. They are not native readers. This is a world to which they must be introduced. As libraries increasingly become computer, centers the office of the college faculty member is the last bastion of the intellectual for whom ideas are hard won through long hours of study and reflection. Our students not only need to borrow our books sometimes, they need to see us and our relationship to them as a vital piece of who we are and the knowledge we produce.
I understand that the "era of reading" is a relatively brief one in the history of our species, and one that is not likely to last. Still, it's an era with many benefits that we will lose to our detriment as a culture. I understand that ebooks are the wave of the future, and I own MANY. But many of my physical books have not been digitized, and even those that have would be expensive to replace. For this reason, I want to hang on to them. I want to keep them. When you bury me do what you will with the books I leave, but they will be objects that have transcended themselves. Yes, their transcendence exists in me and by them I transcend myself, but they also transcend themselves in the marks of my pen, the coffee stains from my mug, and the wear from my hands.
Yes, they don't deserve a place in the modern college infrastructure just because of their spectral nature, but they do deserve a place because of the kind of thinking and teaching they facilitate. The fact that IVC not only doesn't consider books as an essential feature of their architecture, but that they seem to be actually opposed to the idea of our having books, suggests something else is afoot. This is another sign of the corporatization of higher education in America. The administrators who prefer the current office design with the two giant L-shaped desks do so because of its power to fascinate them as corporatized subjects; they want our offices to look like the offices in every office building in Irvine. They don't want to work at a college; they want to work for a business. They don't want to live in a world of ideas that require hours of study and reflection; they want to live in a world where education is quantifiable and "success" can be measured. This is not the world of the Humanities. The world of the Humanities is a world of books and is, thus, a world they cannot understand and for which they feel hostility. Therefore, a giant L-shaped desk seems preferable to bookshelves. (I realize that not all administrators at IVC are like this, and that there are faculty who think everything I've just said is useless, antiquarian, and elitist. Thus, the divide is probably not administrator vs. faculty, but along the lines I've tried to outline here.)
Any support from the senate would be helpful. Giving us smaller desks need not costs the college/district more money (as Glenn suggests). Personally, though I know this is not an option, I'd prefer you put no furniture in their and let me and Jamie go to Ikea together and buy our own.
Please feel free to forward this to the academic senate (or to whomever you feel needs to read it). (The same goes for everyone cc'ed on this email. Please forward, post, delete at will.)
|Guerrilla groundbreaking for the new A400 building earlier this year. Dig in.|
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