Ryan Chartrand


Click here to view an interactive graphic displaying the best and worst classrooms at Cal Poly.

There is a huge discrepancy between certain buildings and classrooms on campus, and no one is more painfully aware of the contrast than the Cal Poly professors who teach under varying conditions on a daily basis. When asked, 13 faculty members said they knew exactly which classrooms were the best and worst on campus.

Among the best classrooms are those in some of the newest buildings on campus, including the Business and Engineering IV buildings. In addition to the large Business Rotunda, room 204 of the Engineering IV building was especially high on professors’ list.

“It was especially designed for the materials engineering curriculum that is student-focused and encourages team work,” said Kathy Chen, materials engineering department chair and professor.

“It has comfortable chairs, and can be reconfigured for a variety of different purposes. There are lots of whiteboards and has a LCD projector. It’s very comfortable and has a lounge and bistro area. The students love having class in there,” she said.

Professors also said good things about rooms in the Alan A. Erhart Agriculture building, especially those on the first floor.

“Updated several years ago through the generosity of a donor, room 100 is a smart classroom complete with a smart board, video capture capability direct to DVD and more,” said Robert Flores, department head and professor of agricultural education and communication. “It also has wireless connectivity of a color laser printer plus 30 notebook computers connected by the wireless system.”

A classroom (room 108) in the Food Processing building was classified by many faculty members as the worst for its proximity to the butcher shop.

“This ‘closet’ is directly across the hall from the butcher shop, where the sound and aroma of beef being butchered permeates the air,” English lecturer Bill Feldman said in an e-mail interview. “Since there are no windows in this ‘classroom,’ we are faced with either suffocation or opening the door and being revolted by the smell . Even though it only holds about 18 students comfortably, there are 26 desks.”

Fellow English professor Barbara Morningstar agreed that room 108 is a problem.

“It is it is literally across the hall from the place where saws buzz as smocked and hair-netted students listen to loud teachers yell the instructions for cutting through bone and gristle and marrow,” she said via e-mail.

Across campus, the Engineering West building’s second floor classrooms were also under fire, mostly for the small size and continuous construction going on around them.

“I was stuck in the smallest classroom I’ve ever seen; it had no windows and no ventilation,” English lecturer Jennifer Ashley said of room 204.

“And we were in the middle of a 90 degree heat wave! Moving from the already hot hallway into our classroom, you could feel a claustrophobic temperature increase of at least five degrees, which caused everyone to melt in their seats. Also, the building was under obnoxiously loud construction and had no bathrooms,” Ashley said.

Since summer 2007, major building renovations on campus added noise and dust to the already uncomfortable room.

“It was either suffocate with the door closed, or inhale hazardous dust without a mask,” Feldman said. “Curiously, the tile setters working down the hall had masks, but faculty and students were supposed to endure, I guess.”

The differences between certain classrooms at Cal Poly are drastic. Professors scramble to secure the smart classrooms to avoid teaching in a “closet” or a “hog cutting room.” The classroom shortage, combined with a lack of smart rooms has many Cal Poly professors frustrated.

“I have definitely seen a vast discrepancy between learning outcomes when equipped with a smart room versus how limited I am with nothing but an overhead that projects transparencies,” Ashley said. “Renting the equipment, setting it up in three different classrooms every day, and lugging it around campus is not feasible on a regular basis.”

During the peak hours of 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., when most students want to take classes, room availability is extremely limited and professors are often stuck with uncomfortable or ill-equipped classrooms. When professors are placed in a bad room, they say it can be difficult to change classrooms.

“Changing rooms is a nightmare,” political science professor Anika Leithner said. “We can request rooms ahead of time (or at least we can request smart rooms and a certain room size), but more often than not, we don’t get what we ask for. It’s a little easier to get a good room if we’re willing to teach during non-peak hours, which means either at 7 a.m. or at 6 p.m.”

Despite the growing number of smart rooms on campus, many faculty members say they are still frustrated with the ones they are assigned to.

“Of all the institutions of higher learning at which I have taught (UVA, NYU, Niagara University, and Webster University), Cal Poly’s classrooms are hands-down the filthiest and worst equipped,” said Brian Kennelly, associate professor and department chair of modern languages and literatures. “There seems to be a huge disconnect between what we claim to be Best in the West and reality.”

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