Deputy Registrar Diane Rodrigues inherited a list from her predecessor matching veteran professors with their preferred classrooms: economics professor William Nordhaus likes the Law School Auditorium, Graduate School Dean and history professor Jon Butler — “a VIP” — requests William L. Harkness Hall 119, and English professor Harold Bloom insists on teaching in WLH 203.
“When I came to my job, I was told adamantly, ‘You must put [Bloom] in WLH 203 or he will not teach,'” Rodrigues said.
Rodrigues spent one week of her winter vacation finding classrooms on central campus for some 800 undergraduate and graduate spring courses. Another 400 courses were assigned rooms by individual departments that control their own spaces. When choosing rooms, Rodrigues considers expected enrollment and where the class was taught in the past. Certain teachers and departments get first dibs on certain rooms.
“I’m not going to bump a full professor out of [Linsly-Chittenden Hall],” Rodrigues said. “It’s just not done.”
If space is tight, she said, a lecturer or graduate student gets booted instead.
Thomas Jeffrey Miley GRD ’04, who has a one-year teaching contract with the Political Science Department, places himself at the “low end of the totem pole.” Grateful to be employed at all, Miley accepts whatever room he is assigned.
“We’re completely subordinated to the bureaucratic machine,” he said.
Faculty can request classrooms but only around 5 percent do, Rodrigues said. Still, she said that some spaces are clearly more desirable than others. Many professors like LC and shun the Hall of Graduate Studies. Rodrigues can understand why.
“My God, the chairs!” she said of the HGS rooms. “The chairs are like from the 1940s. We need to replace the chairs, we need to re-sand the tables, we need to re-sand the floors.”
Economics professor Ray Fair said he requested Davies Auditorium over Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall 114 for his introductory economics class this semester.
“I find SSS 114 too big and formal somehow,” he said. “You’re on a big stage with an audience. I’m just simply an actor up there.”
Space and furniture are not the only considerations. History professor Jay Gitlin said he likes his classrooms to have chalk and nearby parking spaces. He also appreciates a steady stream of electricity. Nearly 20 years ago, a student tried to make cookies in Gitlin’s class using raw Pillsbury dough and a toaster oven. When the student plugged in the oven, he knocked out power in the entire building.
“It was the basement or first floor of the Whitney Humanities Center,” Gitlin said. “They hadn’t upgraded the electricity.”
Once Rodrigues takes faculty requests into account, she assigns rooms based on expected enrollment. For new classes, the numbers are sometimes difficult to predict. When professor Susan Lederer designed a new class, “Fat and Thin: A History of American Bodies,” in the History of Science, History of Medicine Department last year, she did not expect it to be popular. She requested a room for 100 people and prayed that at least 10 would show up. To her surprise, the class attracted so many students that it was moved through five rooms — each once bigger than the last — before settling in SSS 114, which fits 400 people.
“I was astounded,” Lederer said.
Lederer made the last switch with Fair, who moved from SSS 114 to Davies Auditorium.
“It was a Pareto optimal move,” Fair said, using economics jargon to describe the classroom shopping process. “Both parties were made better off.”
Between 3 and 5 percent of classes switch rooms during shopping period. That means Rodrigues works on classroom scheduling for three weeks, though initial room assignments take her seven days. She assigns two-thirds of spring classes to rooms in central campus buildings, which include WLH, LC, HGS and SSS. Individual departments — such as math, economics, and chemistry — put the remaining classes in departmental buildings, located mostly on or near Science Hill. These departments can also request a room on central campus.
In the Geology and Geophysics Department, “enrollments have been low, so they want to bring some of their courses to central campus,” according to the sheet Rodrigues received from her predecessor.
Residential colleges also house classes. The registrar’s office has a working relationship with four colleges — Jonathan Edwards, Calhoun, Timothy Dwight and Silliman — but Rodrigues is reluctant to request space there.
“It should really be your haven, where you go to relax and get away from classes,” Rodrigues said of the colleges.
Still, many students care little where their classes are held.
Jordan Strom ’06 said whether he likes a class depends far more on the teacher and material than on the room. A good class can make the environment seem more pleasant, rather than the other way around. Similarly, a bad class can make the room look dreary.
“[The room] informs my first opinions about the class,” Strom said. “As the teacher starts speaking, the teacher can make whatever conditions are in the classroom irrelevant.”
But Sam Penziner ’07 was adamant that ambiance matters.
“You totally need a comfortable chair, otherwise you’re not going to want to stay in class the whole time,” he said with authority. “You need a good desk or a table, and the room can’t be too hot or too cold. You need personal space. You need good ventilation; you don’t want it to be smelly.”
Rodrigues recognizes that some professors and students have strong feelings, and she tries to accommodate everyone. But she said the job is challenging.
“It’s difficult for someone who’s a perfectionist and a people-pleaser,” said Rodrigues. “It’s my job, and I want everyone to be happy.”