Faculty Offices

May 21, 2018

About a 2 min. read

Ah, the third rail of the academy: space.

An article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed talked about the changing attitudes toward faculty offices … well, at least the changing attitudes (and hopes) of the administration. I suspect most faculty (at least the ones I know) haven’t changed their opinion of the need for offices, they would like to keep them.

On the other hand, I know a few faculty who would happily give up their office if there was better shared facilities. I’m one of them. Before I went on leave from GT, I spent more time in my lab than in my office: some weeks I’d do little more than drop off my bike gear in the morning and pick it up in the afternoon. Overall, I’d love some “very nice spaces, but they’re shared spaces — think of a really nice first-class lounge in a European airport” in the buildings I use.

There are problems to overcome, of course, but I can imagine most of the obvious issues being dealt with. Like, where do I store things like my books? Home, I suppose? What about data that needs to be private (student data) or secure (research data)? Locked cabinets somewhere? Unclear how to make this easy to deal with, but it might be possible. Perhaps we all get small personal locked closets?

Other things are personal: I have back issues so I have a walking desk in my office … where would that live? I suppose it could be in the shared space, but will it be available when I’m there?

Meeting with students in private is easily handled in shared private spaces used for office hours, but what about impromptu meetings? The article puts for the old stereotype about faculty never using their offices, but I (and others I know) have relative open-office policies, and students drop by all the time.

This to me is the biggest problem with the “get rid of faculty offices” proposals: I suspect they would lead to an overall decrease in faculty-student interaction across the board. If faculty had no offices, I suspect most would schedule all meetings in compressed blocks and reserve one of the shared rooms for those time blocks, and then go home or to a coffee shop.

Or we’d all start using social VR for our meetings and classes, and never come to campus at all!

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Faculty Offices - May 21, 2018 - Blair MacIntyre