A Change in Direction

A Change in Direction

After faculty backlash, Barnard changes course for Teaching and Learning Center

Published on February 3, 2015

Updated: 02/03 at 11: 30 a.m. 

Barnard administrators presented revised plans for the college’s new Teaching and Learning Center on Monday, which included an increased focus on space for the library compared to original plans. The revisions came after Barnard faculty and library staff  raised significant concerns about the plans last semester.

The plans, which administrators presented during the monthly faculty meeting on Feb. 2, now include a larger space allocated to the library, the relocation of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies, and the removal of Barnard College Information Technology offices. After the faculty meeting, Chief Operating Officer Robert Goldberg communicated the revised plans to Barnard’s Student Government Association representative council.

The changes address several concerns expressed by faculty and staff about the original plans in December, particularly regarding the reduced size of the library and a perceived lack of attention to the building’s purpose as an academic center. Many claimed that the administration did not sufficiently include faculty and staff during the decision-making process about the building.

“After hearing concerns and suggestions of the faculty and library staff, over the last couple of months we have sort of modified the design of the building so it allows for a larger library. The library’s going to sort of dominate the first four floors of the building,” Goldberg told SGA on Monday evening.

“It was not presented as a possibility”

While the revised plan for the center includes four floors of library space, Barnard President Debora Spar presented significantly different plans for the new building at a Dec. 2 faculty meeting.

At the Dec. 2 meeting, Spar’s plans had the Athena Center prominently placed on the first floor and less space for books to allow room for other uses, such as BCIT’s offices.

Spar also told faculty that the new library would house only 75 percent of the Barnard library’s total collection, and said the space would not have room for further acquisitions in the collection.

Schematics and floor plans of the new building were given to Spectator in December by a faculty member, who asked to be anonymous due to concerns of job security. The floor plans were presented on Dec. 15 to the Teaching and Learning Center steering committee, and are consistent with the provisions detailed at the Dec. 2 faculty meeting.

Prior to the Dec. 2 faculty meeting, Barnard Provost Linda Bell announced former Dean of Barnard Library and Information Services Lisa Norberg’s resignation. While Provost Bell informed faculty and library staff in an email that Norberg“ will be leaving the College on December 31st of this year to devote her full attention to the launch of an exciting non-profit venture focused on Open-Access Network,” colleagues said that Norberg’s resignation stemmed from decisions made by the administration regarding the new library that did not align with Norberg’s views.

In response to the Dec. 8 article published by Spectator, which described the Dec. 2 faculty meeting and the resulting faculty backlash, Provost Bell wrote a letter to the editor of Spectator, claiming that the article contained “misperceptions” about plans for the new library.

When Spectator reached out to Barnard Director of Media Relations Alyssa Vine for further clarification, Vine stated in an email, “The biggest discrepancy in last week’s article, from our perspective, is not a question of inaccuracy or faulty reporting. Rather, it’s that nothing is set in stone for the new building, and that was not made clear.”

But, the idea that “nothing is set in stone for the new building” is not an element found in Bell’s letter.

Spectator declined to publish Bell’s letter due to concerns about the inconsistency between Vine’s email and the letter, as well as the fact that Bell declined a request toclarify questions about her letter.

Furthermore, faculty and staff present at the Dec. 2 meeting told Spectator that the plans were not presented as part of an evolving process. “It was not presented as a possibility,” a staff member, who chose to remain anonymous for concerns of job security, said. This faculty member was present at both the Dec. 2 meeting and at a feedback session that occurred the following week. At the feedback session, Bell said that most of the plans were set, but faculty and staff “could make meaningful changes at the margins,” according to the faculty member.

“They’ll just contradict each other one second to the next,” the same faculty member said. “They’ll say that this isn’t set at all. Then they’ll say the footprints are set. But they’ll say if you want all the books there then they’ll get all the books. But that’s at the cost of study space or office space.”

Before presenting the revised plans this week, Barnard administrators denied that there would be an update on Feb. 2 about the Teaching and Learning Center. A staff member notified Spectator that the plans for the Teaching and Learning Center would be discussed at the Feb. 2 faculty meeting, but when Spectator asked Vine to confirm this, she said in an email sent about an hour before the meeting, “there is not a planned presentation on the new building at this afternoon’s faculty meeting.” Administrators did, in fact, present revised plans for the new building at Monday’s meeting, according to faculty members present.

A Revised Proposal

The new proposal for the Teaching and Learning Center was announced on Monday at the faculty meeting and at the Barnard SGA meeting. These plans were communicated via email from Goldberg to Barnard students Tuesday morning.

Faculty members said after Monday’s meeting that the new plans had more emphasis on the library and efforts to preserve the amount of books in the collection.

“We think we have responded to a lot of the suggestions and a lot of the concerns that were expressed late in the last semester,” Goldberg said during Monday’s SGA meeting. “And I think we’re in a pretty good place to have a really good discussion about the future of the library.”

In order to provide more space for the library, several spaces allocated in the original plan were downsized or removed.

The Athena Center will be moved to a higher floor than in the initial plan, and the café housed on the first floor will be downsized in order to make the library the focal point of the first floor.

“To be perfectly honest, when we had the earlier designs that we were looking at, there were just other programs in the building that we now have sort of moved around to create a larger space,” Goldberg said.

The library—which had been a main point of controversy in the originally proposed plans—is now going to have enough space to house the entirety of the library’s current collection of books, rather than just 75 percent.

Goldberg said that, while ongoing, the new plan for the library is larger than the original and has the capacity to hold all of Barnard’s collections.However, he expressed uncertainty about keeping the entire collection of books in the library’s future.

“The way libraries are evolving, especially academic libraries, that may not be the right thing,” Goldberg added.

Final decisions regarding the book collection and other logistical details will be made by the end of March, according to a faculty member present at the Feb. 2 faculty meeting.

Goldberg told SGA that the next two months are a “crunch period” to finalize the plans of the building for the architects, and soon students will be recruited and selected to weigh in on the plans.

Barnard history and Africana studies assistant professor Abosede George said that while the revised plans for the new building are promising, it’s still in the draft stages.

“I think before, people were much more concerned and I think that the upper administration really heard a lot of the concerns,” George said. “Most people think it looks good on paper right now and are just waiting to see what it’s going to be like.”

Mari Kurihara contributed reporting.

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