Akshat Shekhar | Location, location, location

'Shat’s Shots | Penn’s study space dilemma fails for a lack of practicality, not principle

· January 28, 2014, 5:53 pm   ·  Updated January 28, 2014, 10:31 pm

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Akshat Shekhar | DP

Akshat Shekhar 

'Shat's' Shots


Thankfully, practically no one at Penn worries too much about study spaces these days. Fresh off a long weekend and fluffy introductory classes going over the syllabus, we use Huntsman GSRs as much for Netflix as we do for Excel sheets. Midterm season, let alone finals season, is far off. It really is the best of times.

Alas, we all know the paradise won’t last. In a couple of weeks (if that), some of us will go on late-Tuesday-night treks, foraging for study space and resolving awkward mini-power struggles about room reservations. If things go particularly far south, there might even be some clamor about access policies, even a DP editorial or two.

Rhetoric about fairness, supply and demand, GSR abuse and the “One University Policy” will be thrown around, while we wallow in the inequity of having to walk a couple of blocks to study. Some hardened souls will advise that we suck it up and deal with the situation, pointing out how much of a first-world problem the whole ordeal is.

The latter group comes closest to some kind of solution to the problem. Access policies are, by and large, fair: Just as Wharton students have exclusive access to Huntsman GSRs — for supply reasons, if nothing else — so too are Engineers afforded special computer rights in their Quad. College spaces, from Williams to Houston to Van Pelt, are numerous enough that there is no tangible benefit to imposing new restrictions on them. The system, by and large, is theoretically fair.

The system, however, is also bad.

The biggest logistical flaw in the study space system is location. In theory, the system is fair and should work: Van Pelt lies at the very center of on-campus housing, sandwiched by the Quad and King’s Court and flanked to the east and west by Hill and the high rises, respectively. The Engineering Quad and academic buildings on Locust balance each other out, creating a system where all spaces are equally easy to get to — at least theoretically.

But in a world where Campus Apartments & Co. exist, and nearly half of Penn students live off campus, the vast majority of students reside west of 39th Street. Because of the large freshman population in the Quad, this means that practically every upperclassman considers Huntsman more geographically central than Van Pelt, no matter what time it is. Sure, Education Commons may have enormous whiteboards and snazzy tech, but those resources are all for naught if they are twice as far from students as any other major study area.

The problem that arises from inefficient location is compounded by the inadequate hours during which the academic buildings are open. A midnight closing time for the campus’ largest library is apparently a relic from an ideal era where such time commitments as student organization meetings, work-study jobs, athletic practices and dinner did not exist. University administration should be held responsible for making Huntsman the only 24/7 building on campus, as they exacerbate the very demand problem that flares up the campus’ collective irritation when deadlines roll around.

The administration’s folly doesn’t lie in its inability to create resources, but rather in its policies, which severely limit those resources’ usefulness. There are plenty of steps it can take to remedy the situation, however.

Although the location problem seems hard to solve without a wrecking ball, repurposing some of the administrative buildings on Locust Walk for academic use seems like a situation that would cause little pain. Doing the same with whatever will fill the former Philly Diner lot space would help too.

Extending closing times for all major study halls to 2 or 3 a.m., if not making these 24/7, also seems feasible. It wouldn’t be surprising to hear the University claim that keeping the buildings open longer would cost far too much, but wouldn’t keeping, say, Joe’s Café open just as long for zombie-eyed paper writers in Steiny produce enough revenue to make the move worth it?

After all, a cup of coffee would make sucking it up after you get kicked out of a Huntsman GSR a lot easier.

Akshat Shekhar is a Wharton sophomore from Boston studying finance. His email address is ashek@wharton.upenn.edu.

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