Although I knew it was an open secret that the university did not value art as highly as other disciplines, I did not know that this could be manifested in the environment.
On the first day of school, I made it to my last class of the day. Unfortunately, the class was located in the humanities center. For those unlucky enough to never enter the humanitarian center, it’s a slowly disintegrating sauna—architecturally no different than a particularly unworldly correctional facility. The main hall has dirty floors and carpets, well-worn furniture and a distinct ambient temperature that seems above any other building on campus.
The humanities classroom, which I often have to use as an arts student, is defined by decades-old desks and chairs, windows that don’t open, and clocks that don’t work. These classrooms, like the rest of the university, were designated to be in “moderately uncomfortable” conditions.
The designation is part of a larger scale of cleanup designed by the Association of Higher Education Facilities Officers (APPA), an organization that advises schools and post-secondaries on a variety of management issues. On APPA’s “Five Levels of Clean,” moderate dinginess is associated with four out of five levels.
Level three, which would be a higher standard of cleanliness, is known as “casual carelessness”. Meanwhile, the lowest level, which I imagine is reserved only for basements in tory buildings, is known as “favorable neglect.”
According to APPA, a floor that is classified as moderately soiled must be swept or vacuumed clean, but dull and stained. Surfaces are permitted to contain visible amounts of dust, dirt, marks, smudges and fingerprints. Lighting fixtures are allowed to be dirty and burn up to five percent. Finally, and perhaps most shamefully, all trash cans can contain old trash and “allowed to emit a sour odor.”
Now, this state of cleanliness is common for art students. Anyone can certify through human or tory. However, this is not common for every member of the student body.
For example, when you walk through the Centennial Center for Interdisciplinary Sciences (CCIS), it’s hard to believe that the building is kept to the same level of cleanliness as the humanities. However, the University’s Cleaning Service Standards state that moderate cleanliness is the “average” level of cleanliness on campus. Meaning by definition, some areas are clearer, and others less so.
APPA’s five levels of cleanliness indicate more impeccably that floors must shine under the rays of a perfectly functioning light fixture. Among other non-art buildings such as the Donadio, these levels certainly seem more akin to the realm of the CCIS. Perhaps, these modern buildings hide more dirt and grime than more dilapidated industrial buildings. Or maybe more attention is paid to their maintenance.
A comment provided by the university explained how the facilities and operations team manages campus cleanliness.
“Our cleaning staff and contractors follow a set of approved industry standards All of our five campus buildings are on the same cleaning schedule to keep our community safe and welcoming.”
The university demands that all campus buildings are cleaned to the same level and standard.
“Each building undergoes cleaning inspections every two months, with spot checks between scheduled inspections to provide an overall assessment throughout the year. Data analytics helps us optimize our service delivery model while service levels are achieved and consistently maintained.”
Even with data analysis and cleanliness inspections, something seems to go wrong. Even if those service levels are met and maintained, that doesn’t change the fact that current standards are low.
Arts students pay the same tuition as students in other disciplines. What of the arts that can leave its buildings in relative neglect?
Under the university’s capital plan for “space optimization,” the humanities building will not be used as a teaching space for university students in the foreseeable future. Mounting costs over the years for deferred maintenance mean that human centers will be cheaper to lease than to restore.
For any other faculty, the proposed lease of its central building, and the subsequent dispersal of its courses and offices to other outlying buildings, would cause outrage. This dispersion means that students in the arts and humanities will experience less structured learning. As a result, our art students are devastated.
Trying to convince universities that arts are just as valid as science and engineering. But, the truth is that U of A students, whether they’re in the arts or sciences, are paying thousands of dollars for a world-class, Canada-level top-five education. For now, art students can expect to learn in moderately dingy rooms, with sour-smelling garbage and flickering light bulbs.