Higher Education

academic workspaces revisited


Some time ago (about three years past), I posted here about academic co-working spaces. And I won't claim to have made the kind of sustained study of the topic that Clay Spinuzzi has. However, sitting in my office today, the issue returned to my mind.Here's my office, fairly typical, at least in my experience. All that's missing from the image is the obligatory bookshelf that is just off to the right of this image.

Here's the good thing about this space… I'm betting the furniture is bullet-proof. I'm sure it won't burn. But otherwise, it's fairly useless, except as a surface. Right now, I'm sitting in the chair (which I must say is new and very comfortable) with the laptop on my lap, because the desk is really too high to be a good surface for typing (though it's ok if one is just surfing the web). I've got a phone (which I never use–voice mail goes straight to email). And a printer (which is nice, though a video camera or some new software would have been more useful to me). The file cabinet is empty… I think. I've never actually opened it. You can't quite see it, but there's another table behind the chair. I usually drop my coat and laptop bag on it.

So the space isn't really very good for writing or research. I do that at home, as I imagine most academics these days do. It's marginally acceptable for meeting students, though I prefer to meet with students in small groups and the space doesn't really accommodate that. I could probably dump all the furniture and set up a card table and chairs and have a more functional space than I currently do.

But my point is not to complain. I know that plenty of my colleagues have worse working spaces. In fact, the point I want to make is somewhat driven by that fact. I occupy this space less than 8 hours a week because, aside from being a place to be available for office hours or otherwise to meet with students outside class, I can't imagine any reason to be there. Of course meeting with students is an important part of the job; I'm just not sure I need a space that's dedicated 24/7 to me for that purpose.

I think it's possible to argue that the faculty office reflects an outdated model of labor, one that corporate America has shifted away from, at least in some instances. Humanities scholarship is still a solitary venture. And unfortunately I think our teaching and curriculum remain equally atomized. And in part I think that the office model reinforces that. 

I wonder what kinds of academic communities would evolve if our academic workspaces were more communal?