By Jennifer Katz and Hamzah Yaacob
Members of the Macalester community gathered in the Harmon Room on Thursday April 13 for a presentation, followed by a question and answer session about upcoming changes to the second floor of the DeWitt Wallace Library.
This meeting was the latest in a series of exchanges between library administrators and a group of students concerned about the implications of the proposed alterations.
Library Director Terri Fishel presented the details of the planned renovation. The plans include removing books and shelves, installing two 30-student classrooms, increasing the number of quiet study spaces, and adding a maker space.
According to Fishel, the maker space could be “pretty much what you what you want it to be,” and could include a 3D printer or sewing machines. The space could potentially house book design or book arts programs.
After Fishel’s presentation, she turned to students for questions. The students present, mostly upperclassmen, expressed concerns with what the renovations portend for the direction of the college.
Some said the changes reflected a push to divert resources away from the humanities and into departments linked to more profitable fields—while others worried that the space emphasized the need for students to economically quantify their learning experience at Macalester.
“Certain students want [maker spaces], especially if they’re in computer science or economics, or if you’re in a knitting club, but that’s not me,” Patrick Eickman ’17 said. “I need books. I need tenured professors, and I feel like all these resources are taking away from that. For me, this is a very bad path for Macalester to go down.”
“I’m worried that in 20 years, we’ll be a technical college and not the liberal arts college that I signed up for and that many other students signed up for,” Eickman added. His comment elicited sympathetic snaps from several students.
Ilana Budenosky ’17 raised concerns about the space’s ties to entrepreneurship.
“I think that lot of my peers’ frustration is at seeing how their departments are struggling in the midst of this conversation,” Budenowsky said. “Another part is this frustration and distrust of it being linked to the entrepreneurship center.”
To this point, Cleo Young ’17 sees the space as connected to entrepreneurship. She said the terminology used for the maker space “comes straight out of start-up jargon.”
Macalester’s entrepreneurship program will have two new offices on the renovated second floor for Entrepreneur in Residence Kate Ryan Reiling and Entrepreneurship Coordinator Jody Emmings.
Ryan Reiling facilitated a brainstorming session at a previous meeting where students were tasked with proposing ways for the new space to meet student needs. Librarians have also repeatedly spoken about the overlaps between the entrepreneurship program and the library’s goals.
Fishel responded to the strong skepticism that many students expressed over the growing role of entrepreneurship on campus as being anti-academic and profit motivated.
“In terms of the entrepreneurial program, it’s helping individuals who have a vision to carry that out, not just to make money, but to improve society, which is part of what we’re doing at Macalester,” Fishel said. “I thoroughly embrace having Kate Reiling and Jody Emmings as the future people to be there and all the students that they bring with them, because I think it’s something that’s positive for the college.”
Nonetheless, many students were still uncomfortable with the presence of entrepreneurship in the library.
“Having entrepreneurship in the library makes me so uncomfortable as a student,” Joseph Berms-Dawes ’17 said. “I’m a German studies major and a critical theory major—my ideas aren’t lucrative, and the library is a safe space where I can produce ideas that aren’t going to be able to start a business.”
Vice President for Administration and Finance David Wheaton blamed the concerns on bad marketing.
“I think the description of the second floor as an entrepreneurship space is never what it was intended to be and it was badly described from the start,” Wheaton said.
He also cited a lack of evidence for student concerns about the downsizing of departments.
“The faculty sizes are about the same as they have been,” Wheaton said. “The notion of humanities faculty being downsized isn’t in the data.”
He also pointed out that, above all, the use of the maker space is designed to be flexible and not necessarily entrepreneurial in nature in a campus short on space.
“The idea of the flexibility of the space is to try to take a campus that has less square footage than all of our peers and use it for as many different things as we can,” Wheaton said.
Despite efforts by Fischel and Wheaton to highlight the practical use of the new space, some students remain unconvinced that administrators were primarily motivated by a desire to serve student needs.
In an interview with The Mac Weekly, Young said she views the space as symbolic of a “push in academia to justify itself as doing something in the economy for the economy.”
She added that the new space reflected a shift in campus culture away from student activism and towards equipping students for the corporate world. “It feels like a lot of extra stuff to make Macalester a more generative and productive place,” Young said.
“I think it’s really silly how we’re encouraged to think in a very short-term and individualized way,” she continued.
She hopes that the conversation her and her peers have started will spark student activism. “There’s a long history of student movements, and that’s being actively discouraged, and I think conditions are going to change where it’s going to start making sense again.”
Budenosky further explained her concerns in an interview with The Mac Weekly. As an art student, she appreciates the availability of creative spaces in the library but worries about the involvement of the entrepreneurship program.
“To me, it’s important that people still have study spaces, that entrepreneurship is not the office driving the programming and direction of the space because I do feel that will alienate students,” Budenosky said.
She also drew connections between the renovations and Macalester’s treatment of certain employees.
“There are serious problems on this campus of underfunding of departments, and Café Mac employees are still not paid a living wage,” Budenosky said. “We’ve seen Macalester as an institution time and time again take actions that are against the working class, so it is not surprising to see them go towards entrepreneurship, which is historically anti-working class [and] racist, so I think the pushback against this space is justified. Maybe the back and forth has escalated, but it’s good to be having these conversations.”
Most of the students at the April 13 meeting, including Young and Budenosky, are graduating seniors who will leave campus this May. Budenosky is confident that students will continue to question the place of entrepreneurship on campus.
“I hope this momentum keeps going,” Budenosky said. “I am a senior and I know many people involved who are seniors, but I also know there are so many underclassmen who are really passionate about this and making change at Macalester. I think they’ll continue, and I think there’s a lot of people at Macalester who could step up if they wanted to.”