Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Bartlett demolition raises questions about fate of humanities community on campus

Bartlett Hall, home of the English Department. (Collegian File Photo)

Bartlett Hall, home of the English Department. (Collegian File Photo)

By Johnny McCabe

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Bartlett Hall, home of the English, Journalism, Art History and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies departments, is slated for demolition and replacement by as early as 2016. As UMass continues its ongoing courtship with construction (the ramifications of such public affection being easily observable all around campus) the central bastion of humanities studies, built in 1959 as a champion of Modernist sensibilities, is next in line for the chopping block. It will be replaced by the New Academic Classroom Building (NACB) that is currently under construction next to Hasbrouck Laboratory and an as-of-yet unnamed facility near South College.

Critics of Bartlett would not (and will not) hesitate to point out the innumerable deficiencies of the building, which, as anyone can admit, is beginning to show its age. Bartlett is commonly bemoaned as a labyrinthine jumble of stairways, doorways, hallways and classrooms, thick with the musk of a bygone era. The floor plan is questionably arranged even to the most adept architectural navigator, and the building seems to sag under its own weight. Broken and boarded-up windows evoke Dickensian comparison as the temperature drops at night and in the winter; during the hotter months, the walls perceptibly drip with sweat (as do all those unfortunate enough to study within them, as anyone who has survived the experience can attest) and the interior temperature has been known to approach that of the sun.

Indeed, it is undeniable that poor Bartlett is in dire straits, but all British punk rock pioneers aside, the fate of the English department and its cohabitants is decidedly ambiguous. The journalism department is moving into the NACB, but the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies department, one of the smallest on campus, has not been awarded a temporary home and seems destined at this point for a rather nomadic transition. As for its much larger older sibling, the English department, the prospect of transition is even more worrisome: many times larger than its smaller brethren, uprooting the ancient behemoth from its territorial stomping grounds will be no easy task.

Setting the dizzying intricacies of construction and architectural development aside, there is, I think, something to be said about the sense of community that the ramshackle building has come to embody at this point. Sure, it’s a dilapidated, outmoded eyesore with a climate control problem and the strangest lavatory features in the history of bathrooms (seriously though, those urinals are an affront to mankind). It may be old, dirty and falling apart, but it’s home to some of the most incredible and talented people this university has ever seen, students and alumni both. At the risk of sounding old fashioned, it has character; and character is something that can’t be constructed in a mere four years.

Johnny McCabe is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]

7 Comments

7 Responses to “Bartlett demolition raises questions about fate of humanities community on campus”

  1. Stefan Herlitz on December 3rd, 2013 2:14 am

    Bartlett Hall is a dangerous, very old building, the facade of which is only kept from falling by the massive steel beams temporarily erected there.
    Those departments which reside in Bartlett will not only move to the NACB, but also to the also-to-be-renovated-and-expanded South College building, which will be able to house twice the capacity of the current South College. Do not worry, those departments will not be kicked to the curb.

  2. Linda Hillenbrand on December 3rd, 2013 5:24 pm

    Great article, thanks Johnny. The NACB will only be housing one department from HFA, Linguistics. The new SCAF (South College Academic Facility) has no room for Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies or Art History – so yes, we are being “kicked to the curb.” Bartlett has been my work home for 20 years and it’s all true.

  3. David Fleming on December 4th, 2013 12:10 pm

    Regarding the comment from Stefan Herlitz, the new South College Academic Facility may be twice the capacity of the current South College building, but the combined new facility will have considerably less available square footage than the current Bartlett Hall. So, in fact, the departments which reside now in Bartlett Hall will *not* all fit in either the new Academic Classroom Building or the new South College facility, as Herlitz suggests. “Do not worry” is also, of course, the administration’s line. It is not having its intended effect.

  4. Luke on December 4th, 2013 3:53 pm

    Thanks for the great article! It goes without saying that this is a direct result of the privatization of our public university, the policy of “Responsibility Centered Management” and the strategic plan. All of those things are very troubling for both high quality education and the social science that are facing not only diminished space but also diminished funding in favor of the more “profitable” university enterprises.

  5. Margaret Wardley on December 4th, 2013 3:57 pm

    I’m glad you addressed the character of Bartlett. The building is deplorable but the community it houses is unique. The university will lose something special if it breaks up the departments.

  6. admajor on December 4th, 2013 5:59 pm

    Dire Straits weren’t punks

  7. Mr Mars on December 7th, 2013 12:14 am

    What is Luke talking about? What privitization? The students pay the bulk, the rest is from the state.

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