Relocation of classes to accommodate South Foundation renovation leaves faculty concerned

Lauren Karmo, Campus Editor

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The upcoming renovation to South Foundation Hall will leave Oakland University to find new, alternative space to accommodate the loss of the 37 classrooms housed in the building. Planned to begin in May or June 2020, the $40 million project will last for 18 months, requiring a class relocation plan spanning five semesters. 

The closure of South Foundation Hall will affect students and faculty of all departments. Built in 1959, one of the oldest buildings on campus is home to many general education classes and classes across all colleges within the university. 

The offices of the Provost and Registrar have been using a program called Platinum Analytics to make scheduling decisions during the renovation. Platinum Analytics works in combination with the students’ Degree Works program to meet students’ needs. 

While schedules have yet to be finalized, the breakdown of relocation tactics has. The largest alternative is to increase classroom sharing, particularly with hybrid classes, followed by increasing use of 8 a.m. and evening time modules, online and hybrid classes.

“This is a campus-wide initiative and a campus-wide opportunity,” Registrar Tricia Westergaard said. “It should not fall on one area or one department more than anywhere else.”

Despite this assurance from the Registrar, some departments feel they are affected more than others due to this project. Some in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures worry students will not gain the same experiences because of the hybrid format they’re temporarily adopting. 

“I do think that some classes are more conducive than others to being successful in an online format,” French Professor Dikka Berven said. “Normally in class, the students have the opportunity to speak the language and interact with each other by speaking the language. That is going to be a different experience if they are being required to write instead of speak.”

The Registrar has decided on a plan to do “a little bit of everything” to share the burden of the classroom loss, but some faculty members are still unhappy with the results. 

“I’ve been here 22 years, speaking as a faculty member, I feel really demoralized that the faculty was not consulted in this at all,” English Professor Kathy Pfeiffer said. “The teaching mission of the university has been sold out without any input from faculty. It feels like classroom space, which is what we’ve all dedicated our lives to, interacting in the classroom, has very little value to the administration. Our perspective had no say in this major decision. It’s professionally insulting and it’s demoralizing for us as a group to have the most important part of our jobs taken away from us.”

Some faculty feel students will be put at a disadvantage during the renovation due to the alternative solutions that are being provided. 

“We’re still in the very early stages of scheduling, and it may yet be the case that we do not have enough space to serve student needs,” Dr. Kevin Laam, chair of the English department, said. “At that point, it may then be the case that we look more aggressively into finding physical space for these classes, and I hope that’s the case, because I have pretty strong reservations about moving a large amount of content to online and hybrid delivery.” 

A large concern felt across departments is one of a decrease in enrollment. According to Pfeiffer, many students choose Oakland for its faculty-to-student relationships and prefer face-to-face to online environments.

“My theory is that we’re gonna lose a lot of students,” Pfeiffer said. “There is competition from other universities who are offering face-to-face classes, and why would students come to OU and pay the OU price when they can have a face-to-face experience at a community college or at some other institution?”

Faculty have also expressed concerns regarding the use of 8 a.m. and evening time modules. Due to the large amount of commuting students, inconvenient and unusual time modules may decrease enrollment as well.

“If we move the classes later, since there are so many students that commute, I’m worried that they’re going to have to get to their job or have to leave campus earlier than they can take our classes,” Berven said. “Also, getting here for an 8 o’clock class is very difficult. Sometimes people come from an hour away or more.”

While the temporary situation will require massive changes to be made on all levels, the administration promises that the results will be worth it. The new building will have more classrooms, updated technology and facilities, new furniture and more collaborative spaces for students to enjoy. 

The goal of the project is for students to not feel as though they are visitors, but rather to make them feel at home. 

“Yes, it’s a short-term situation where you may not get your first choice, but there are long term benefits of this, not just for the students but also for the faculty, in terms of teaching spaces that work and function, and aren’t designed for a 1960s education,” Senior Associate Provost Michelle Piskulich said. “We hope it will help people keep their eye on the prize, because the end of this is going to be worth it.”