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Editorial: Metcalf Auditorium, R.I.P.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Most of the classrooms at Brown are quite good. MacMillan 115 and Smith-Buonanno 106 in particular are very nice places to watch a professor lecture, and the two auditoriums in the Salomon Center definitely get the job done. The same cannot be said of what used to be the Metcalf Chemistry Lab auditorium. As the renovations to Metcalf continue, we wanted to take a moment to remember what used to be the worst classroom at our school.  

The problems in the old Metcalf auditorium began with perhaps the most basic element of any classroom — the chairs. We use the word “chairs” with a bit of hesitation, since each student actually sat on two wooden boards fixed to form a perfect 90-degree angle. After sitting in these seats for roughly 30 hours over the course of the semester, students taking classes in this room should have been offered the services of a chiropractor or a massage therapist.  

The room’s trademark, though, was the set of radiators that lined the walls. During the winter months, these radiators kept students warm at a high cost. They made so much noise that one could have reasonably thought people were trapped inside trying to break out. Let’s just say that between the chairs and the noise, no one ever dozed off during a class in Metcalf.  

From the very top rows of the auditorium, the professor looked like an ant. But for some reason, many professors who taught in the room still insisted on using the blackboard. We’re not sure whether this was because of professors’ personal preferences or because the room’s projection capabilities were limited. But either way, we came to dread the very possibility that a professor teaching in Metcalf might be tempted to make use of the blackboard.  

To top it all off, one member of the editorial page board recalled that the large periodic table of elements painted on the front wall was out of date. How are students supposed to learn if they can’t even be reassured of the existence of roentgenium?

Fortunately, the classroom as we once knew it has now ceased to exist. The images on the Building Brown website are quite exciting. Anyone who survived a semester in Metcalf can take a satisfying look at the auditorium being demolished. And non-seniors can check out a sketch of what they have to look forward to when the new room opens. The project is supposed to be completed next fall, according to the website.  

At some point this year, you might find yourself a little frustrated that part of Thayer Street is still blocked off. Or you might overhear someone criticizing the University for undertaking so many construction projects simultaneously. But take it from us, this one was worth it.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board. Send comments to

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