After two years of discussion, plans are finally being made to convert 301 Philosophy into a renovated, usable graduate student center, outfitted with a lounge, cafe, and meeting space.
The room, previously labeled “Lounge of the Graduate Faculty of Columbia University,” will reopen by the fall of 2013 for the exclusive use of students in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
“We’re the only one of our peer institutions that doesn’t have a graduate center,” said GSAS Dean Carlos Alonso. “Most of them have an entire building. We are just trying to get a minimal, functional space for graduate students.”
Members of the Graduate Student Advisory Council, who have seen architectural plans for the space, will meet with Alonso next Monday to discuss the renovations.
Until now, the space was open to all students and faculty indiscriminately and was often booked when graduate students wanted to use it.
“It was so undependable that students actually are not thinking about it anymore and don’t use it,” Alonso said. “We had to do something to reclaim the space for the exclusive use of graduate students.”
“Dean Alonso was very good about this,” GSAC Chair Angela Jia said. “He knew how much this mattered to us.”
In September 2010, GSAC and the University Senate wrote a report to propose an interim graduate student center. In it, GSAC outlined the reasons why the current space does not fit the needs of the student population, offering recommendations for reconfiguring the room.
However, the report stressed that 301 Philosophy would serve as an interim center only. “The Committee is well aware that Uris Hall will in all likelihood go to the arts and sciences once Columbia Business School decamps for Manhattanville” in 2016, the report says. “Within Uris, there will certainly be an emphasis on creating space for graduate students, and there are many attractive options within.”
The renovations are part of the $4.6 million enhancement plan to increase funding for Ph.D. students in GSAS. Part of the enhancement included setting money aside for renovations of 301 Philosophy, as well as 302 Philosophy, which currently serves as a teaching center.
According to Jia, the project was put on hold after it was discovered the space would require additional structural renovations, particularly to the pipes.
Joe Ienuso, executive vice president of facilities, said that plans for the graduate center are still in a conceptual phase.
“We have not yet hired an architect to really take a hard look at the space and figure out what we are going to do with it,” he said. “Dean Alonso has given this project a lot of thought, and he’s looking to ... satisfy the needs of his diverse graduate student populations and create a space where graduate students could come together informally.”
The renovation plans for 301 Philosophy include updating the kitchen, installing a cafeteria, and adapting the layout of the room to make the center more amenable to group study and one-on-one meetings instead of just the large, group events the space usually hosts, according to University Senate member Mi Wang.
Current problems with the space include unsanitary conditions and an inflexible layout. Wang said that many of her peers claim to have sighted cockroaches in the room.
“It was one big empty hall with chairs that we put on the side when we need the social space,” she said. “It’s actually not too bad for a big social like a wine tasting or one big party. But when the Graduate Student Advisory Council held their meetings there, we could barely hear each other because the room was so empty and big.”
The room, Wang said, would benefit from group study spaces varied in size, as well as a cafeteria and better multimedia support.
“Because graduate students were so involved in getting this passed, I think students will feel a greater ownership over this place.”
Wang cited the growing interdisciplinary nature of many academic programs as a reason for breaking down departmental boundaries and creating a common meeting space.
“We want people to use the lounge so that they will meet their peers and make interdisciplinary [education] a reality and not just something we talk about,” Wang said.
Margaret Mattes contributed reporting.