Crunched for space

Thursday, May 22, 2008

It’s hard to miss the new big-budget buildings and construction projects transforming Brown’s campus, but as students walk past the new, mammoth Sidney Frank Hall for Life Sciences on the concrete path that will soon be reborn as a greensward linking the Pembroke and main campuses, a more immediate concern might be on their minds: Why is my section meeting in the lounge of a residence hall?

“We actually run out of seminar rooms in the afternoon,” said University Registrar Michael Pesta.

When the J. Walter Wilson building opens this summer as a new student services center, the former biology laboratory will add 11 new seminar rooms, relieving some of the space pressure, Pesta said. The space crunch comes as the shift to lower class sizes – a priority of President Ruth Simmons’ Plan for Academic Enrichment and a key metric in college rankings – has driven the proportion of classes with 20 or fewer students from 66 percent to nearly 75 percent.

Dean of the Faculty Rajiv Vohra P’07 said that as the faculty has grown in recent years – a net increase of 106 additional faculty members since the 2001-02 academic year – the physical space of the campus has not kept up.

“While you see a lot of construction going on, the fact is that there is a lot more need for academic space that hasn’t grown that much,” Vohra said. “The fact is that when you expand the faculty by this magnitude in this short a period of time, there are going to be other kinds of infrastructure support that might be lacking.”