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Say What?!

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As a sophomore computer science major, I had been looking forward to the completion and opening of the Gates and Hillman Centers since I first visited Carnegie Mellon in high school. When the buildings opened, I was impressed by the amount of work and collaboration space available. The reading room on the ninth floor and the large student lounge on the sixth floor, with its covered patio, proved to be excellent places to focus on my work or just to sit and relax. Spaces like these allowed for interaction with others or for individual work, and it is often hard for undergraduates to find such places on campus.

After growing used to having these resources available, imagine my surprise when I tried to reach the sixth floor one evening and was locked out. While the third, fourth, and fifth floors were still accessible, all other floors were locked to my undergraduate ID card. This restriction is similar to the one that exists in Newell-Simon Hall. The difference in this case, however, is that the Gates and Hillman Centers is built around the theory of connections. Blocking off floors to a segment of this community achieves the opposite effect.

I understand that professors and graduate students might have a desire to add an extra level of security around their offices and labs. There are areas of this campus to which undergraduate students do not need access, and I do not argue with the locks in, for example, Newell-Simon. If there were only offices on the restricted floors, there would be no problem; however, this is not the case. If the plan all along was to lock the sixth through ninth floors, then there should not be a student lounge on the sixth floor, nor should there be workspaces throughout the building. While professors and graduate students have offices in the buildings, undergraduates must make do with these public spaces. If these are designated faculty or graduate lounges, they should be marked as such, and the Gates and Hillman Centers should not be touted, as it currently is, as an open and revolutionary environment.

These restrictions do not only affect students wishing for a work space away from the library or their cramped dorm rooms. Teaching assistants can no longer hold office hours in much of the Gates Center because undergraduate students are not able to attend. Even if workarounds are in place, such as the ability to have a professor remotely unlock the doors, this is an inconvenience to those students seeking last-minute help on an assignment.

As disturbing as this new restriction is, the fact that it was put into place without any notification to undergraduate students is even more cause for concern. Among the fellow undergraduates with whom I have spoken, those who are aware of these new restrictions found out either from other students or from trying to access the floors and failing. If this change was considered by the administration of the School of Computer Science and deemed necessary, it should have been announced to all members of the university community.

The Gates and Hillman Centers are an exciting addition to our campus. The buildings symbolize the connections among disciplines and within our campus community. It is a sad irony that the administration has chosen to ignore the potential benefits of openness. That the decisions were made without informing the undergraduates violates the spirit of the buildings even more. In the more than two years remaining to me at Carnegie Mellon, I look forward to spending time in the new complex, and I hope I am not limited to only three of its floors simply for being an undergraduate.

Michael Kahn, Computer Science 2012