Arts profs last to select classrooms, leaving them with campus’s worst
At 4:15 p.m., on a Wednesday in early March, Prof. Nima Naghibi watches a student walk into her classroom. His head is bowed, and for good reason – he is more than an hour late. Naghibi looks around in dismay. Every single seat in the room is taken, except for one: tucked snugly in the far corner of the room, a lonely, wobbly wooden desk accompanied by a plastic, equally unstable chair.
Naghibi pauses her lecture, exasperated. She walks over to the desk and drags it across the room to give the latecomer a seat. Her students watch, silent. Then she does the same with the chair.
Just a month earlier, this would never have happened. When the semester began, she taught her post-colonial literature class in a spacious lecture hall on the lower ground floor of the George Vari Engineering and Computing Centre.
Naghibi loved that room. She loved that it was spacious and air-conditioned. She loved that the seats formed a semicircle around her, a shape she perceives to be more conducive to discussion and participation compared to straight rows and columns. And best of all, she loved that there were more than enough seats to accommodate the whole class.
On Feb. 3, she received an email from Ryerson’s scheduling office. She was told another class would be taking her classroom, LG02. She would have to change rooms. Either a small, hot room on the third floor of Kerr Hall South, just past the physics wing, or an eerie, windowless basement classroom in Kerr Hall West. She chose the former.
Though better than the alternative, KHS 338 proved to have its own issues. Naghibi describes the room as “tight and uncomfortable.” Simone White, a second-year English and philosophy student, calls the room “hot and gross.” But for liberal arts students like White, rooms like KHS 338 are nothing new. The worst, she says, is VIC 205, for its large pillars that obstruct the view of the instructor. She says she’s had three different classes there.
“All my professors have requested to be transferred out of that classroom,” she adds. “I’ve talked to my cousin and other people I know who are in programs like engineering and nursing, and they all have really nice classrooms.”
The testimonies of Ryerson’s arts students sound the same. The buildings in which their classes are located vary wildly, but they find themselves most often in the ones they hate most: Victoria and Kerr Hall. Theria Kennedy, an English major in Naghibi’s newly relocated class, says she would like a separate building dedicated to the arts but would settle for just a floor of a building or even a communal room. For English students like herself, she says, it’s difficult to build camaraderie without a communal space.
In January of last year, Ryerson proposed the rezoning of 202 Jarvis St., currently a parking lot owned by the university. The proposal includes the development of a 41-storey building meant for education facilities and student housing. Should the City of Toronto accept the proposal, 202 Jarvis St. would become the new, state-of-the-art home of the Faculty of Science.
This proposal of a construction effort that will cost tens of millions of dollars comes in spite of the fact that the Faculty of Science is the smallest at Ryerson and is statistically the poorest performing of all faculties. Newly admitted science students are by far the least likely to graduate from their programs, with only 52.8 per cent making it to convocation within six years. That’s 14 percentage points lower than the next faculty, according to the University Planning Office. Science students are also some of the least likely to find jobs after graduation and avoid defaulting on their OSAP loans.
The argument that the reason the Faculty of Science may be getting a dedicated building is precisely due to the low-performance numbers does not hold water either. The Daphne Cockwell Health Sciences Complex, which opened in August 2019, became the space for Ryerson’s nursing and public health programs, both of which average more students than the average arts department. Nursing students were also more likely to obtain jobs two years after graduation, and less likely to default on their OSAP loans than arts students.
And so, the arts students stuck in the middle are left to wonder what criteria they must meet in order for the university to develop a building dedicated to their discipline. If the university develops buildings based on the programs of most need, an arts building should have been developed before Daphne Coxwell. If buildings are erected to reward programs of high achievement, then an arts building should have predated plans for a science building.
It is difficult to overstate the importance of classroom quality. A study performed by professors at Kennesaw State University revealed a correlation between student satisfaction and the quality of classrooms.
In 2010, professors Mary C. Hill and Kathryn K. Epps conducted a study in which two instructors gave identical lectures to two sections but in different classrooms. One section taught in a “standard classroom” (which looks remarkably similar to a Victoria Building classroom). The other is taught in an “upgraded classroom” (which looks closer to ENG LG02).
Despite the content and quality of the lectures being the same, students in the upgraded classroom reported higher satisfaction with their education and were more likely to attend.
“Classrooms matter,” says Naghibi. “If we had a dedicated building for the arts, it would make a huge difference.”
Ten minutes before 6 p.m., when her class is scheduled to end, Naghibi distributes sheets of lined paper to her students. She asks for an honest evaluation of how the class is going, and what can be improved upon. “Please don’t be too mean,” she says, half-jokingly.