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Chem faculty rethink lab schedules

When the French Science Center is complete, students may find themselves with lab goggles and chemicals rather than beers and hangovers on Thursday nights and Saturday mornings.

Some chemistry faculty have expressed concern that plans for the new science building indicate a lack of sufficient teaching lab space, which will force the department to reevaluate its current class schedules and possibly offer lab sections on weekday evenings and Saturdays.

Faculty became aware of the potential space crunch after reviewing preliminary concept diagrams at meetings last month. Budget constraints forced planners to scale back the initial designs for the building, creating less teaching lab space than was originally anticipated.

Administrators and faculty disagree about the impact of the reduced lab space on the lab schedule.

"The only way to handle the volume of students is to have labs other than in the morning and the afternoon," said Steven Baldwin, professor of chemistry.

With the present facilities in the Gross Chemistry building, lab sections on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and afternoons Monday through Friday accommodate the nearly 800 students who take introductory and organic chemistry.

John Simon, chair of chemistry, maintained that the currently planned space will not necessitate evening labs, but it is likely some will be offered once the French Science Center is operational in four to five years.

"We believe under current enrollment pressure, we will be able to offer our curriculum in the current time slots," he said. "But it is wise to offer evening labs because it frees up space in the daytime. You've got to get flexibility somewhere."

Lecture times may also change in order to utilize the currently vacant lab space on some weekday mornings, Simon said.

The French Science Center includes plans for 19,160 square feet of chemistry teaching labs, 130 more square feet than Gross Chemistry contains.

Yet many are concerned that the space is inadequate to support the general and organic chemistry sequence, and all agree the lab space leaves no room for growth in undergraduate chemistry.

"There is no question that with the present scheduling, the program could not be accommodated," said Berndt Mueller, dean of natural sciences. He added that evening labs, which would run from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., are a likely solution to the contracted lab space.

"I have no doubt there are concerns," Mueller said, citing personnel and security issues.

He added that the University has pledged money to hire personnel to supervise evening labs and has promised to address security issues, such as late-night bus service between Science Drive and East Campus, before evening labs are instituted.

Chris Roy, director of undergraduate synthetic laboratories, said the plans seemed short-sighted.

"We're looking at a situation where a brand new building is going to be filled to capacity in two years," he said.

Although there are no concrete plans to increase the undergraduate population, senior administrators have indicated that increasing the student body by as many as 200 is a strong possibility in the next five to 10 years.

"The lab space has no fundamental design for growth, but we're not, at this point, looking into major growth in student numbers," Mueller said.

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