As the Business School prepares to relocate from Uris Hall to Manhattanville within the next five years, academic departments and student groups are vying to lay claim to a share of the newly available space.
University President Lee Bollinger has promised the 122,000 square-foot building to the Faculty of the Arts and Sciences—a decision which has been seen as a significant gesture to help bolster Arts and Sciences’ presence on Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus and alleviate its space constraints.
“We have a brilliant faculty, we have brilliant students. … We just don’t have the space,” Executive Vice President and Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences David Madigan said in a 2015 interview with Spectator. “This is really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to address space in a big way, not just incrementally.”
In order to decide how the extensive building will be allocated, Madigan has formed a committee that is currently analyzing the needs of various academic departments.
A&S faculty currently suffer from a shortage of offices and classrooms, which has limited the number and size of course offerings and placed an additional barrier to the hiring of new faculty. While some departments are looking to Uris to help alleviate these concerns, others will attempt to capitalize on vacated spaces left by departments who do move into Uris.
Physics department Chair Philip Michael Tuts said that for his department, which is currently housed in Pupin Hall, the ideal location for additional labs would be in Pupin or the Northwest Corner building—not Uris.
“From our point of view, there’s benefit to us to have people close by,” Tuts said. “It would be good for any new space be located locally … because that allows the free exchange of ideas of researchers walking down the hall. It’s a benefit to research just from proximity.”
But for some of the largest-growing departments on campus, such as English and political science, Uris is the best solution to meet the demand of the increasing number of students majoring in those departments.
English department Chair Sarah Cole said that if Uris were to be dedicated to humanities departments, the move would solve practical issues and highlight Columbia’s commitment to the humanities.
Cole also noted that Uris could relieve the English department’s need for shared departmental workspaces.
“We actually do not have a common space that we could use for job talks, department meetings, colloquia—we have nothing,” she said. “Chair after chair, [we] have been asking, ‘How can we have a room like most departments have where they can do the work that is basic to the department?’”
Political science professor Nadia Urbinati cited infrastructural issues as reasons why her department needed a unified space.
“The International Affairs Building is very dysfunctional in terms of heating, air conditioning, and structural issues. In effect, political science often does not have enough space—we are distributed among several floors,” Urbinati said. “It would be excellent to have a large space in which the entire department can communicate easily and more consistently to have more unity.”
However, some faculty and administrators—such as music department chair Susan Boynton—have argued that Uris alone will not solve the pressing space needs of academic departments.
“It’s unbelievable the shortage of space for classrooms, so I think that converting that whole building to classrooms won't actually open up a lot of space,” Boynton said.
But Arts and Sciences faculty are not the only ones looking to Uris as a solution to space concerns: Students and student groups have frequently pointed to the lack of recreational space on campus as detracting from community and exacerbating Columbia’s stress culture.
For example, Lerner Hall—which was initially planned to serve as the hub for student affairs—has since lost dedicated student space to administrative offices that have moved into the building. Now, only a minimal amount space in Lerner remains available for students to reserve—a fundamental problem for a building labeled as Columbia’s primary “student center.”
Other constituencies, such as General Studies students and identity-based student groups, have also pointed to the need for childcare resources on campus and community areas designated as safe spaces.
“There’s no collection of resources for the marginalized identities on campus,” Engineering Student Council President Neha Jain, CC ’17, said. “If you want folks to be academically and extracurricularly successful, you have to provide them with the necessary resources, and you need space to provide said resources.”
Ryan said that because Uris seems to be the first openly available space on campus, the building would be the student affairs committee’s “principal point of advocacy for space” with student councils and administrators over the coming academic year.
Regardless of the final allocation, Ryan said the ongoing need for space greatly impacts the quality of the Columbia undergraduate experience.
“If you look at our peer institutions like Harvard, Princeton, or Yale, all of those institutions have large space for students to eat, congregate, hang out, and build community, and Columbia does not have that,” Ryan said. “In my opinion, that [space] is something we need to establish if we are to continue to be the most attractive school going forward. It’s very critical to the development of our community.”