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Viewpoint: The 'Rundown' Languages Building

BY ALLISON RAECK

Published January 13, 2014

Thirty minutes after the hour, nestled in the basement of the Modern Languages Building, my French class glanced from the clock to the door, bewildered as to the whereabouts of our professor. Like a herd of lost sheep, we anticipated her arrival in echoing silence. At precisely 12:35 p.m., our professor made a grand entrance, proclaiming, “Excusez-moi, j'étais coincé dans l'élévateur!”

“Excuse me, I was trapped in the elevator.”

To some, this may seem like a traumatic, rare occurrence. But to us MLB regulars, getting stuck in the elevator is a casual rite of passage. I remember my first time being trapped in the MLB elevator like it was yesterday, mainly because it was yesterday. On the way to my professor’s office hours, I was naïve enough to pass up the stairs and board the University’s very own Tower of Terror only to come to a jerky halt somewhere between the third and fourth floors. On my way out of the contraption, after thanking the maintenance worker and kissing the seemingly stable floor beneath my feet, I came to a dramatic realization: nobody should ever have to endure the nightmare that is the MLB.

As if LSA’s foreign language requirement isn’t inconvenient enough, the University has its students learn these languages in a building reminiscent of the set of “Saved by the Bell.” Its basement, home of many failed conjugation quizzes and a few lost hopes and dreams, sets the foundation for a building which, contrary to what its title may suggest, is anything but modern. Though the University’s 2011 financial report states that renovation for the basement and second floor of the MLB started three years ago, the basement continues to look like something from 50 years ago. Students are shoved into tiny classrooms with desks I have not experienced since my elementary school’s field trip to a one-room schoolhouse. I am still waiting for someone to explain why the writing space of these desks is not big enough for a piece of paper. The white, brick walls symbolize the emptiness of the building’s soul, with abandoned lockers and blackboards adding a nice, vintage touch. Everyone knows that the MLB is the “Throwback Thursday” of University buildings, paying homage to the dismal, underfunded days of high school.

While I realize that one’s ability to learn is not fully dependent on the interior design of his or her classroom, I have experienced unrest in the basement’s classrooms that have inhibited my ability to focus. Snuggled elbow-to-elbow with two of my classmates every day, I sometimes question my life choices when coming to class. Though my minor case of claustrophobia has only caused me to dramatically exit the room on one occasion, I can’t help but wonder how the MLB basement experience is for other students at the University. Its seating is problematic for people who physically cannot use the wrap-around desks, and the elevator is a necessary risk for those relying on its accessibility. Small desks have even been shown to cause back pain, especially among tall students. For the most part, most other buildings at the University accommodate those with special needs. Still, the MLB remains stagnant, showing very little alterations since its construction in 1965.

While a repair for the building’s elevator is scheduled to take place this June, the MLB needs to see many other changes as well. The University prides itself on being at the pinnacle of academic excellence, supplying its students with what they need to succeed. But what Michigan students need isn’t a $4.4 million fishbowl redesign or a $4 billion fundraiser. What they need is a place to learn without getting stuck in a desk, elevator or overcrowded hallway. A crudely graffittied quote in one of the MLB’s women’s bathrooms says it all: “I hate this f***ing place.” Let’s get with the times, spend our money responsibly and give students a reason to come to class. Let’s renovate the MLB, already.

Allison Raeck is an LSA junior.

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