Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Replace Science Classroom Building?

We've Been Talking About This for Thirty Years,

Could We Please Do Something?

(With a Side Rant on Teaching Methods...)

"It's a better use of money than a $500 million football stadium"

Nothing illustrates the priorities of the current administration better than the so-called Science Classroom Building situation…

The building is a dive. I think that it has been neglected of late because the general consensus is that it should be pushed into the Mississippi and that this should be happening soon. We’ve had many new RESEARCH buildings built while the miserable condition of the Science Classroom TEACHING Building has continued. Nevertheless, Mr. B. has fond memories of the Science Classroom Building. Great lectures by great teachers in large classes. Hearing a Nobel Prize winning chemist present a lecture and students going up afterwards to have their OChem books autographed.

Eventually, when OurLeader has attended to more important things like football, he gets around to taking care of this eyesore.

Full disclosure: Mr. B. is very familiar with the Science classroom building having made first acquaintance nearly forty years ago. He is a proud graduate of BigU’s chemistry department and has had some experience teaching chemistry at the undergraduate level.

From the Daily

June 27, 2007

Pres. wants to raze eyesore
By Mitch Anderson

The Science Classroom Building, long described as a campus blemish by students and instructors alike, could soon be getting more than just a touchup.

The building, a fixture of the East Bank campus since 1962, would be demolished to make way for a new Science Teaching and Student Services Center.

Wayne Gladfelter, a professor of chemistry who has taught in the Science Classroom Building for most of his 19 years at the University, said the project would be a much-needed upgrade to the current facilities.

"Many of the faculty, including myself, feel that the lecture halls themselves aren't too bad," he said. "But that being said, the rest of the building is a disaster."

The facility would include several state-of-the-art science classrooms in addition to other student service offices offering academic advising, career counseling, financial aid and billing - offices which are currently scattered across the Minneapolis campus.

Gladfelter said the current building is in desperate need of renovations to the heating and ventilation systems in addition to being just plain ugly.

"The building just looks like a dump. It's a sad entry to the East Bank of the University, one of the gateway buildings as they say," he said. "It's just a shame that it's so ugly."

University officials conservatively estimated the project would be completed by 2012, but talks are currently underway to start sooner in order to save money on inflation.

Michael Perkins, associate vice president of Capital Planning and Project Management, said the new classrooms will feature several technological advancements to provide a more active learning environment for students.

"We're going to be moving to an interactive classroom as opposed to an auditorium setting," Perkins said. "All the research that we've looked at, which has been substantial, points out that people learn better, faster and retain more when they learn in interactive settings as opposed to sitting and being fed information."

-------Side rant-------

Sorry sir, I have some news for you. This comes from the real world and not your uncited "substantial" research. It comes from someone who has actual experience teaching real undergraduates at places ranging from Carleton to BigU over nearly forty years. Although I might be a curmudgeon, I am not a Luddite. I use technology where appropriate and have even won an award from BigU for technology enhanced teaching.

The best way to present introductory courses in general, organic, and biochemistry is the lecture method.

“Opposed to sitting and being fed information” is a little loaded. The reason students go to lectures (good ones anyway) is that the material is presented by an expert in a way that students can learn it. Trot on down the road to St. Olaf or Carleton or across the river to St. Thomas or down 494 to Normandale. Take Ochem with Chuck Carlin or Gary Spessard or Dr. OJ or Chuck Ojala to name just a few of the outstanding chemistry lecturers at these fine institutions.

Guess what - it is the people stupid! And good teachers will make appropriate use of technology using their best judgment.

Could we please look at the RESULTS of the teaching method and the satisfaction/dissatisfaction of students, rather than making loaded and unsupported statements about how people “learn better, faster, and retain more when they learn in interactive settings.” (They "leap tall buildings at a single bound"?) I call BS.

The chemistry department at Minnesota is one of the best teaching departments at the University. Look at the number of faculty members in chemistry who have won teaching awards. AND the interesting thing is that many of the chemistry department’s world class scientists are also world class teachers. Bill Tolman, Larry Que, and Chris Cramer come immediately to mind. There are many more. Look at the comments on Rate My Professors about chemistry faculty members. Chemistry undergrads who work in my lab actually know some chemistry and guess where they learned it?


Currently there are 11,000 students [a significant fraction of the entire student population] enrolled in chemistry courses alone in any given year, many of which are taught in the Science Classroom Building.

Gladfelter said the University needs to be careful when balancing resources for instructing students with accessibility for large classes.

"With many of these buildings that they're talking about constructing, there seems to be a relatively small proportion spent on classrooms," he said. "That's something we cannot afford to lose."

Professor Gladfelter, an outstanding teacher and former chairman of the chemistry department, makes an excellent point. Do NOT neglect decent large classrooms in this new building. They have their important place and the chemistry department has made great use of them.

Orlyn Miller, director of planning and architecture at the Office of Capital Planning and Project Management, said the University placed a higher priority on the project this year after it failed to get funding last year.

"Because this is a carry-over from the 2006 request that didn't get funded, my feeling is that (the project) will have high priority and, from the University's perspective, be promoted pretty heavily from the Legislature," he said.

Miller added that it didn't hurt that Bruininks is a strong supporter of the project.

Uh-huh, he has been a really strong and vigorous supporter… If he had put as much effort into getting the Science Classroom Building situation taken care of as he put into the football stadium we would have had a gold-plated science classroom building two years ago.

Student opinion varies on the proposed Science Classroom Building makeover.

Mike Stone, a neuropsychology student who has attended classes in the Science Classroom Building, said just because the building is an eyesore doesn't mean it isn't still useful.

"I think the technology is too old in terms of projection and sound systems, but otherwise (the building) is adequate," Stone said. "On the other hand, lecture halls and labs are more necessary than some of the other projects on campus."

Anthropology junior Tom Taff agreed with Stone's sentiments.

"It's a better use of money than a $500 million football stadium," he said.

On the one hand it is good that this situation is finally going to be taken care of. On the other hand I fear that the people making decisions do not know what they are doing. I certainly hope that they consult with the folks in chemistry such as Wayne Gladfelter - to make sure that a new science classroom building is done right. A new building done badly will be even worse than the current eyesore.

Remember when the geniuses tore down the poor old decrepit - on campus - Memorial Stadium and replaced it with something they now admit was even worse...the downtown Metrodome? And now we're going to replace the downtown Metrodome with? Twin City Federal Stadium (almost named T. Denny Sanford* Stadium). Which of course will be right back on campus near... the old Memorial Stadium location.

Which goes to show that if you wait long enough as a U of M administrator, people will eventually forget your past sins and you can feel free to re-write history. (I was a very strong supporter of the new Science Classrom Building. There is no conflict between teaching and research. I am for stature rather than ratings. I strongly support General College. I strongly support a higher minority enrollment. General College must go. I am against re-engineering. I am for Kotter's Eight-Stage Process of Creating Change. This is a land grant institution.)

And so it goes.