The University of Alberta’s Humanities Centre building is currently being assessed for space optimization — with the future goal of removing it from the U of A’s building inventory.
As part of the U of A’s long-term asset management strategy, the Humanities Centre building is currently being evaluated for space optimization with the future goal of removing it from the U of A’s building inventory. No concrete plans or timelines are currently in place, and nothing is set to change before the end of the 2022/23 academic year.
A comment provided from the university said removal of the building would take away “ongoing operational costs.”
“The Humanities Centre has a considerable amount of current and projected deferred maintenance, and eventually removing it from our inventory would result in the removal of ongoing operational costs, ultimately reducing our deferred maintenance liability overall,” the comment said. “These decisions are supported by evidence and facility data.”
According to the university, removal options for the university could include “leasing the property to an appropriate partner if possible and reinvesting the funds into space optimization efforts,” “shuttering the building for a period of time,” or “demolishing the structure.”
“The teams always look at all viable options, and choose the option that best meets the needs of the university in supporting its mission,” the comment said. “These activities improve our space optimization efforts across our campuses, ensuring we are right-sizing our infrastructure to more sustainably meet the needs of our students, faculty, staff, and the public that often utilize our facilities on a daily basis.”
The U of A shared plans to move units based within the Humanities Centre closer to other faculty staff.
“We are currently planning towards the units within the Humanities Centre moving to an alternate space sometime within the next two to three years, where they will be more closely located with other faculty staff,” the comment said.
Community members express concern over the future of humanities disciplines
Various members of the university community have expressed concern over the possible removal of the Humanities Centre.
A comment provided by Christian Fotang, Students’ Union vice-president (external), expressed concern over what getting rid of the Humanities Centre will mean for humanities disciplines at the U of A.
“While we are not opposed to optimizing the university’s facilities to make better use of student dollars, we do oppose any change that will reduce the quality of facilities students learn in,” Fotang’s comment said.
“We are concerned that the elimination of [the Humanities Centre] will result in many classes being moved to older, less ergonomic spaces … and worry that the loss of a home on campus will damage the unique identity and community of humanities disciplines, and will send a message that humanities are not valued at the U of A.”
The Organization of Arts Students and Interdisciplinary Studies (OASIS), which is currently housed within the Humanities Centre, voiced worry over the university’s treatment of the building.
They drew attention to the role the Humanities Centre plays in campus life for arts students.
“It’s disheartening to see the Humanities Centre deemed expendable by the University,” comment from OASIS said. “The Humanities Centre is a hub for arts students, as well as many non-arts students, to study or meet with peers. It’s one of the few places on campus where arts students can come together and feel a part of a community.”
“We have heard from many students who are concerned about where the advising office will be moved to, how the university will fit students into an already cramped Tory Building, and what this means for the arts faculty in general. For many, plans pertaining to the arts faculty feel like an afterthought so this choice does little to develop a sense of faith in the university’s support of arts students.”
They voiced a desire for the university to bring forward a structured plan surrounding the building’s future.
“If the university is going to continue with the removal of the building, [OASIS] would like to see a
solid plan for replacement and consultation to take place with students before making any more
decisions going forward,” OASIS’s comment said.
The department of English and film studies is also currently based within the Humanities Centre. Cecily Devereux, the chair of the department, voiced unease over the building’s future.
“I would feel better if I knew where we were going to go, because it’s hard not to know where the department will be housed,” Devereux said. “We are quite large — we’re a big department in terms of the number of continuing faculty who teach in English and film studies, the number of academic teaching staff, and the number of students we teach — because we teach almost everybody, which is about 5,000 or 6,000 students a year.”
“We really need space where we can meet with students and do the work that we do in our teaching as well as our research. I feel concerned about our not knowing where we’re going to be.”
Devereux said it is “hard not to feel” that the potential plans of removal for the Humanities Centre serves as an indicator for how humanities are valued at the university.
“Everybody who’s connected to humanities may be feeling a little uncertain [right now] because the building that houses humanities, that is named for this part of the university, may be torn down or leased to another non-university entity at some point in the next few years — that does leave people feeling uncertain about how it is that the humanities are valued.”
She noted that, however uncertain the future of the Humanities Centre is, the supports for students in the department will stay the same.
“Wherever we are, wherever the teaching staff at the university and in English and film studies happens to be, we’ll be here to support our students,” she said. “I don’t want students to worry, because … that degree of support doesn’t change, no matter what happens to the department.”