The University Insider is The Daily’s first faculty and staff-oriented newsletter. This weekly newsletter will give U-M faculty and staff the ability to see the most important issues on campus and in Ann Arbor — particularly those related to administrative decisions — from the perspective of an independent news organization. It will also provide a better understanding of student perspectives.
LSA junior Stephen Dinka arrived at the Shapiro Undergraduate Library basement hoping to receive help with his Foundations of Computer Science course, EECS 376, homework at office hours. However, even though he arrived early, Dinka saw a massive crowd of students waiting for the instructional aide.
“That one particular day was ridiculous,” Dinka said. “There were people standing around, right at the front door wondering, ‘Where’s the IA?’ When the IA finally showed up, you have all these people just standing, and there’s no room. They literally go across the entire basement and take all these chairs just to sit around this one guy with a tiny whiteboard.”
Students told The Daily overcrowding in the UGLi is a familiar issue for many students of theory-based computer science classes. IAs interviewed by The Daily said they do not want to be a nuisance in public spaces, but they need to use them because they do not have an official area to host office hours. Unlike professors, they do not have offices or designated spaces to meet.
Engineering sophomore Ryan Baker said he tends to arrive early to office hours, which IAs hold in the UGLi, but has also been in positions where he wasn’t early enough and there was not enough room in the UGLi to accommodate all the students who need help.
“I’ve been in positions where there are so many people in that small space that the IA is trying to utilize that you can’t see what he’s writing or you can’t hear him at all,” Baker said. “It’s just kind of pointless going to office hours at that point because you can’t get the help you need.”
According to Engineering junior Ian Robinson, an EECS 376 IA, the overcrowding issue became exacerbated once the class was informally kicked out of the UGLi basement. For his specific office hours, Robinson moved to the Design Lab of the UGLi. Even after moving, he was still unable to fit all the students who needed help but had no other options as he does not have an office on campus.
“While we weren’t kicked out, we did sort of have this overcrowding issue because my office hours were coincidentally at the same time as another EECS 203 IA's (office hours),” Robinson said. “We were sharing this really small space that was barely enough for a single office hour, and there were so many students there that we were told we posed a fire hazard.”
On Feb. 5, a week after they had made the change from the basement to the Design Lab, Robinson was pulled aside by UGLi staff during his office hours.
“When I was giving office hours, UGLi staff took me away and told me that basically I was getting kicked out of the UGLi,” Robinson said. “They showed me the printed copy of the email that had supposedly been sent out to the EECS department.”
A copy of the email was provided to The Daily by Stephen Griffes, senior manager in library operations. Griffes sent the email to Brian Noble, chair of Computer Science and Engineering; Seth Pettie, associate chair and professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; Mingyan Liu, Peter and Evelyn Fuss chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering; and Dennis Sylvester, associate chair and professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science on Jan. 31.
The email requested that for any courses planned for the future, the library should not be listed as a location and current office hours or related sessions must be relocated. The email noted the main reason office hours cannot be held in the library is because the library is not certified for classroom use.
“The Library has not approved the use of library space for any scheduled office hours to take place, and the Library is not Bureau of Fire Services (BFS) certified to hold class sessions in our buildings, such as the ones taking place in the Shapiro basement study space,” Griffes wrote in the email. “Since we do not have BFS certification, we are in violation of safety and fire codes every time your classes advertise their hours. On Monday night, there was a large class of 30 students in this space.”
The email specifically mentioned that EECS office hours violated the fire code, and IAs were never given permission to hold office hours in the UGLi.
“When library staff informed the GSI that we do not permit classes in our open study spaces, the GSI, who indicated they were from the EECS department, said that they had permission from professors Volkovich and Kamil to use the Library to host this class,” the email continued. “No such permission has been granted. Even when it is a smaller group of students receiving office hours tutoring and instruction, the cumulative effect violates the fire code.”
In an email to The Daily, Liu confirmed Noble sent an email to all Computer Science Engineering faculty on Feb. 3 after receiving the initial complaint.
Noble wrote to The Daily that the issue was resolved because he spoke to Kati Bauer, interim chief operating officer of the Duderstadt Center, who confirmed that office hours could be held at the Duderstadt. However, Bauer responded saying she only spoke for the Duderstadt, not the UGLi.
Before the incident at the UGLi, Robinson had never seen the email, even though it was about his office hours.
“This has already been out for nearly a week,” Robinson said. “I was unaware of this, this was not sent to the actual IAs … the first time that I had heard this was when UGLi staff came over to me.”
Rebecca Dunkle, associate librarian for Library Operations, said the purpose of the library is not for office hours.
“The library is open to everybody, but we get a lot of requests from different departments from faculty to GSIs, to see if they have office space for them to see if they can have conversations with their students, and we don't have enough space for them,” Dunkle said. “We understand they need space, but the library can’t provide that kind of space for the departments.”
LSA sophomore Harry Fu is an EECS 203: Discrete Mathematics IA and had coinciding office hours with Robinson. He also expressed frustration with the limits on capacity.
“For my office hours, I get anywhere between 40 and 60 people,” Fu said. “I think the Design Lab and the library is supposed to be a tiny, quiet space — that really causes an issue with the people that are trying to make sure the library stays what a library should be.”
Though Fu is sad about the loss of office hours at the UGLi, he said he understands why they were kicked out.
“It’s inconvenient for me, but I can’t really blame them for kicking me out,” Fu said. “It is loud, and it is somewhat disruptive, and it’s just a function of so many people.”
Baker echoed this sentiment.
“I, 100 percent, agree with them and their safety concerns and us taking up a ridiculous amount of space,” Baker said. “I think that given the resources they’re provided with, the IAs are doing their best to combat that.”
After leaving the UGLi, Robinson said IAs had to look for alternative locations to hold their office hours on Central Campus.
He said that some were holding office hours in the Math Atrium and Fishbowl, however, not all transitions were that easy. Robinson noted that another IA he knew had a difficult time finding an office hour location.
“Another location we tried was the IdeaHub in the (Michigan) Union,” Robinson said. “We were kicked out of the IdeaHub. They moved to the connector between Union and West Quad.”
Baker said he experienced this uncertainty in locations as his class was constantly being asked to move.
“They’re being forced to move around to different places, which shortens their office hours, and they’re able to help fewer kids than they would be if the CS department had a little foresight and booked a room somewhere,” Baker said.
Without a set room location, Baker said he sees this issue happening again in the future. Baker said if they don’t have access to announcements through Piazza, an online chatroom for many EECS classes, then people wouldn’t know where to go.
“A lot of the time, it’s hard to communicate that to everyone, in real-time, because they don’t have a plan, they just move from place to place,” Baker said.
Fu said there’s a delineation between the abilities of a student organization and an IA. Student organizations are eligible to book rooms on Central Campus, while IAs have the same booking rights as a normal student. However, the study rooms he is able to book as a student, he said, are not large enough to fit the number of students who attend his office hours.
“As IAs, we don’t have the same power as a student organization, so we don’t have the right to reserve study rooms,” Fu said. “The study rooms that typical students can reserve are not big enough to sustain the 60 people that come to my office hours.”
Bauer clarified that office hours can still be held at the Duderstadt basement and that the basement is separated from University Libraries.
“We’ve talked it over — we have spaces where it’s appropriate to hold office hours, and we’re more than willing to let folks do that,” Bauer said. “The one email message that went out was from librarians and they have a part of the Duderstadt Center, but they are not the entire Duderstadt Center, so they can’t represent the entire building. We certainly don’t have any problems with them being held as long as they are not mandatory. Mandatory office hours are more like a class, and our building is not certified for classes through the state.”
Even though North Campus is open for office hours, Fu said many students prefer Central Campus office hours. Fu said he tries to keep his office hours on Central Campus to make them more accessible to students who need help.
“It’s a lot more convenient for (students) to go to Central (Campus) office hours, and the class is already hard enough as it is, and I want to make sure that the students know that we’re there for them and we’re there to work through the class together,” Fu said.
Dinka said he hopes these newfound solutions on Central Campus are long-lasting and office hours do not move to North Campus.
“It’s ridiculous that EECS wouldn’t have office hours on Central Campus considering that’s where most people live,” Dinka said. “It’s a huge inconvenience taking time out of your day going all the way up to North Campus, and of course, North Campus will be just a bit more crowded at certain points of the day, too, because of it.”
Some students The Daily spoke to attributed the inability to find spaces to house office hours to the growth in the number of students majoring in computer science. With more students in the course, there will be more students attending office hours, which requires a large space to accommodate all the students
With the spike in EECS enrollment, students are beginning to become frustrated with more issues than spaces. In a different project-focused course, Baker said he sat in office hours for a total of five hours and was helped twice. He also said he was disappointed in the inability to register for classes he wants to take, and instead has to register for the classes left over.
“If they can’t properly make arrangements for the number of students they have in the CS program, then they need to find new ways to cap it,” Baker said. “They can’t keep taking our $60,000 and not be able to provide us with the resources that they say they are going to provide us with.”
However, Fu doesn’t believe the situation should be solely attributed to over-enrollment.
“In a way, you can attribute it to that, but I think it’s really hard to address a problem of over-enrollment because I feel like the alternative is denying people that want to pursue a career that they love the chance to do it,” Fu said.
According to the CSE department, the number of students that enrolled in a CS-Engineering degree in Fall 2010 was 317. In Fall 2018, the enrollment was 1219.
Joanna Millunchick, associate dean for undergraduate education for the College of Engineering, said they are trying to find solutions to the space issue, but they do not want to cap the program at a certain number of students because it leaves interested students out.
“We can’t limit the number of students that want to do this, because then where are they going to go?” Millunchick said. “We’re also trying to create other avenues and awareness about other avenues. … We’re looking closely at other ways for students to be able to get degrees that are still meaningful to them.”
To help alleviate the office hours problem, Millunchink said that she would be open to having the department rent spaces for office hours, and noted that the new Ford Robotics Building being built on North Campus will provide more classroom spaces for students.
“We’ve got to get these students places where they can study and hold office hours,” Millunchink said. “I’m willing to do that.”
Reporter Francesca Duong can be reached at email@example.com.