Sociology department seeks a place to call home

The exterior of 140 Prospect St., which houses some of the Sociology Department’s offices and classrooms, can be seen here suffering from rust and disrepair.
The exterior of 140 Prospect St., which houses some of the Sociology Department’s offices and classrooms, can be seen here suffering from rust and disrepair. Photo by Ilana Seager.

The Sociology Department is looking for a home.

For nearly two decades, the department’s faculty have been spread out across several aging buildings on Science Hill on the property of the planned new residential colleges. Because of the location of two of these buildings — 140 Prospect St. and 80 Sachem St. — the department may eventually get the single space it has long desired.

The Sociology Department’s transience is emblematic of a campuswide game of dominoes — a complex shuffle of construction and renovation, which Deputy Provost Lloyd Suttle has compared to a giant version of the puzzle where you have to slide the tiles around one empty space, except without the empty space. As for Sociology, the University has not pinned down a final location for the department. And with the residential colleges and other campus construction currently on hold, the department will have to tolerate its current spaces for at least several years more.

demolition derby

After the Oct. 6 demolition of the neighboring 70 Sachem St., Sociology Department Chair Karl Ulrich Mayer hopes subsequent demolitions in the area will come soon, he said. But he tempered his optimism with a sense of realism.

“I honestly think that we will be in these buildings until my retirement,” said Mayer, who came to Yale in 2003.

Mayer said he was not certain about the department’s final destination. Over the years, several new locations have proposed to him, he said. Both 204 and 210 Prospect St. were once options, as was the newly opened Rosenkranz Hall, Mayer said. The old School of Management campus was set to be replaced with a new space for the Sociology Department, but now that too is uncertain because construction of the new SOM campus has been delayed. And even when the School of Management moves, the vacated office space may not necessarily be given to the Sociology Department, Mayer said.

The current interim plan for the department is to move into 493 College St. by Silliman College, Mayer said. But he added that the department will remain on Science Hill for as long as possible because the College Street facilities only have room for core departmental offices. The department may also get use of all of the “diner,” a trailer located at 8 Prospect Place (sometimes called Suttle Hall), also on the grounds where the new colleges will eventually be built.

not a gem

Some students and faculty in the department said a change in location cannot happen fast enough. Students and faculty interviewed said they are by no means attached to their current home on 140 Prospect St., which houses classrooms, offices and the Social Sciences Library.

“The building [at 140 Prospect St.] is very shoddy,” Sorcha Brophy-Warren GRD ’14 said. “And the [Social Sciences] library is not the nicest library on campus.”

Although Social Science Library Director Jill Parchuck said the library’s interior is “far nicer than the outside,” even Mayer admitted the building’s glass windows are “really shabby.”

Attitudes about 80 Sachem St. — which includes faculty offices and one seminar room — are not much different.

“[80 Sachem St] isn’t on the nicer side of the scale of Yale facilities,” assistant sociology professor Jonathan Wyrtzen said, adding that the one perk of the location has been having an office to himself. “I’m definitely not emotionally attached to this building.”

Added sociology professor Immanuel Wallerstein: “It is not an architectural gem.”

under one roof

With a move on the way, Wyrtzen and Mayer both stressed their desire for the department to come together under a single roof. And while sociology professors who spend time in 80 Sachem St. have tolerated leaks, climate-control issues and construction noises for the past few years, students in the Center for Cultural Sociology, which was moved to the Prospect Place “diner,” said they could not be happier.

“It has been a really nice change for us,” Brophy-Warren said. “We have nice office space, and it’s mostly just us [in the building].”

Mayer added that the acquisition of space in the “diner” signals the first time the department has had enough room for all of its graduate students.

The department’s struggle for building space is a deep-rooted problem spanning several decades.

In 1992, Yale’s administration attempted to shut down the entire Sociology Department in order to cut costs in the face of a financial crisis. The introduction of Richard Levin as University president the following year and a faculty vote against the move saved the department, Mayer said. This uncertainty, however, meant that department heads struggled to recruit new faculty. And in 1999, many senior faculty members in the department retired, leaving only two behind, Mayer said.

Today, Mayer said, the department has multiple spaces and the faculty — including 12 senior professors and a modest junior faculty — to fill them.

“We are working hard on making the undergraduate program more attractive and more visible through activities like study breaks,” Mayer added. “We think sociology has something to offer especially in the current situation — fewer students will go into finance, and more into the social sciences.”

But when the department will have a single home in which to teach these students is a question that remains unanswered.

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