Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Dear Chancellor: Humanities buildings in shocking disrepair

By Joy Silvey

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






(Collegian file photo)

(Collegian file photo)

Dear Chancellor,

I am writing on behalf of the “What the FAC?” movement at the University of Massachusetts because support for the Humanities and Fine Arts is essential for my community. I am the Chairperson of the UMass Theatre Guild, which is one of the oldest student organizations on campus. Founded in 1906 and formally incorporated as a Registered Student Organization (RSO) in 1920, the Theatre Guild has been a critical creative outlet for students here for over a century. Although we have some wonderful supporters on campus—our advisors in Student Activities & Involvement, for example, have always worked hard on our behalf—we have keenly felt the disparity in University funding that negatively affects Humanities and Fine Arts programs and facilities.

The UMass Theatre Guild produces a full play and musical every semester without the adequate facilities to do so. We have an arrangement to use Bowker Auditorium for only one of our productions, leaving us scrambling to find an alternate space for our other show. We often end up performing in a lecture hall that was not designed to showcase theatrical works. Although both of our production teams are extraordinarily hard-working, only one team can work and perform in a real theater. The other team may work in a space that has seats held together with duct tape, such as Marks Meadow auditorium. These alternate spaces are always challenging to light correctly, present difficulties for sound projection and are frequently too cramped to accommodate sets and actors. It is demoralizing for many performers, directors and tech crew members to present their hard work in such ill-equipped spaces.

The Fine Arts Center (FAC) and Theater Department have limited resources for their own programs and little to spare for us, which has contributed to unnecessary tension over the resources we share. My freshman year, the FAC revoked our privileges to use the loft in Stockbridge Hall as our storage space—a place we had used to keep costumes, props and set pieces for half a century. The Guild no longer has any place to store our materials for future use besides the cramped office in the Student Union that we share with four to five other RSOs. Every year, we throw out useable materials because we simply have no place to keep them. Although we are able to use the FAC’s scene shop to build our sets, we are unable to store our set pieces there because they need the space for other projects.

Why is there not greater support for the arts on campus? Are our student activities worth less to this community than the work of our athletic teams? The football team has a newly renovated multi-million dollar stadium for their home games. The basketball team will soon have a new training facility across from the Recreation Center. The Theatre Guild, in contrast, rehearses five nights a week in Bartlett classrooms that have boarded-over windows, broken blinds, burned-out lights, malfunctioning heating systems and floors thickly coated with dust.

One frequently hears phrases that illuminate how students feel, such as “We’re rehearsing in Fartlett,” or “Let me brush you off; you’ve got Bartlett on you.” Humanities buildings remain in shocking disrepair as science and engineering buildings receive expensive renovations and wonderfully upgraded facilities. Please do not misunderstand–I fully support upgrades to our STEM facilities and am proud of the research that occurs daily at this university. I am also proud of the accomplishments of our athletes and enjoy the excitement that sporting events bring to campus. But the disparity in funding and treatment by the Administration is blatant and needs to stop now.

This is a question of respect. Our University forms a nexus that produces top-notch artistic work and innovative academic projects within the Humanities and Fine Arts. As educators and students, we are fortunate to study at the University, but the University is also fortunate to have us. If our education and extracurricular activities do in fact matter to the UMass community, then the spaces in which we live, work, create and play ought to be treated with more respect.

Joy Silvey is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected]

8 Comments

8 Responses to “Dear Chancellor: Humanities buildings in shocking disrepair”

  1. Alex on October 8th, 2014 6:20 pm

    If you’re unhappy with the funding available, then ask your department’s alumni to donate more or have your faculty apply for federal grants. $90 million of the $115 million dollar cost to build the ISB was donated by various alumni, mostly from the chemistry department, and the adjoining LSB is being substantially paid for as a part of faculty research grants. Similarly, renovations in Goessman Lab were paid for by Alumni and corporate support from Exxon. It’s not like the university is playing favorites, it’s just your department doesn’t bring in much money.

  2. Amanda on October 9th, 2014 7:40 am

    Alex,

    It’s very easy to overlook the fact that the overhead costs of teaching in the humanities are quite low (though I complain regularly about lack of access to good and reliable technology to enhance our teaching, especially as digital humanities takes off!). The University can spend more on resources (architecture is just ONE of the ‘costs’ of new buildings that you mention, and while that may be subsidized by corporations, upkeep, faculty, supplies, etc. are not) for STEM and other fields because we cost them so little. I teach in DIckinson and there is red tape over window cracks. UMass Amherst humanities classrooms were featured on the classroom of shame tumbler for good reason.

    By the way, I also teach in the new Integrative Learning Center. Did all of that money come from alumni donations?

    Your comment also assumes that alumni donations or corporations should foot the bulk of the bill for new buildings, upgrades, or hell, just safe working conditions for humanities workers. I disagree. Bartlett is scheduled to be replaced, but it’s been painfully slow and it’s a contentious issue in and of itself because of worries of classroom space and not actually meeting our needs. At the end of the day, the current working conditions in Bartlett and other humanities buildings is an embarrassment.

    A separate issue: because these buildings haven’t been upgraded, they’ve also not accommodated the Americans with Disabilities Act. I held a student’s crutches while a friend gave her a piggyback ride so that she could get up to the 2nd floor where her class was scheduled to meet, because Dickinson doesn’t have elevators to make it handicap accessible. Shame, shame, shame.

  3. Anna on October 9th, 2014 7:59 am

    The Theatre Guild itself is not “a department” Alex. As for the humanities, that encompasses a GREAT many disciplines. These are disciplines that make art (you think that’s not valuable in an easy to understand super commodifiable way? Where’s your movie industry, pop music, advertising, web content, BOOKS (pretty much most books)…you know CULTURE (at its best and crappiest) without the humanities. Where is your critical thinking without the humanities? You know, that skill that might help us understand when the government/media is pulling the wool over our eyes? And hey, who teaches the ENTIRE UMass campus how to write? That’s your English department. Grant writing doesn’t happen without writers. You might be correct about what the humanities brings in money-wise to UMass (I do not know the numbers), but that’s a sorry estimation of university at this point if we can’t envision it as anything other than an “every department for itself” cesspool. Why not just do away with those pesky academics and just turn university into football? Wait, then it would just be football.

  4. Maurice on October 9th, 2014 10:26 am

    Alex,

    If your point is that Alumni money goes to the departments that the Alumni graduated from and therefore broke Humanities majors are the problem, why use Chemistry Alumni money on a business school? Unless it is specifically earmarked by the donors, the University chooses where to spend their money. People like you who think of the Humanities as Barista training are the reason that humanities departments across the country are treated so poorly.

  5. Noah on October 9th, 2014 11:51 am

    The idea that the quality of education and collegiate experience afforded to students should be based on the financial viability of a particular field is insulting. The university, despite appearances, is not a corporation, higher education is not the free market, and students are not direct financial investments.

  6. Noah on October 9th, 2014 11:52 am

    Also, kudos to Maurice for the last line of your comment. Well put.

  7. Charles on October 10th, 2014 11:50 am

    Maurice, in defense of Alex the UMass Gives page clearly allows donors to specify what departments donations go to.

    Noah, how can you say UMass and higher education is not run like a corporation? We recently saw in the news that UMass is in the Top 100 of national research universities this could not have happened without an investment. As Alex pointed out wealthy alumni make generous donations. Smart students attract more talent for the student body. Your parents as the tuition payer is making a financial investment in you. Everyone involved in your academic career sees you a financial investment.

  8. Noah on October 27th, 2014 1:25 am

    Charles—this may the way things are run—that doesn’t make it right.

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.




Navigate Right
Navigate Left
  • Dear Chancellor: Humanities buildings in shocking disrepair

    Archives

    PowerPoint is a crutch that shows a failure to teach public speaking

  • Dear Chancellor: Humanities buildings in shocking disrepair

    Archives

    The election may be over, but your work isn’t

  • Dear Chancellor: Humanities buildings in shocking disrepair

    Archives

    UMass students should learn by doing

  • Dear Chancellor: Humanities buildings in shocking disrepair

    Archives

    The divide: How politics is driving us apart

  • Dear Chancellor: Humanities buildings in shocking disrepair

    Archives

    What happened to ‘the Zoo?’

  • Dear Chancellor: Humanities buildings in shocking disrepair

    Archives

    The Pittsburgh synagogue shooting’s toll on the gun debate

  • Dear Chancellor: Humanities buildings in shocking disrepair

    Archives

    Democrats and Republicans are not equivalents

  • Dear Chancellor: Humanities buildings in shocking disrepair

    Archives

    ‘Vote Blue No Matter Who’ ignores the fact that not all Democrats are the same

  • Dear Chancellor: Humanities buildings in shocking disrepair

    Archives

    The lottery: miracle or curse?

  • Dear Chancellor: Humanities buildings in shocking disrepair

    Archives

    Point: Cultural appropriation isn’t acceptable just because it’s Halloween