Multidisciplinary Commons

Built in 1925 and renovated in 1993, the Computer Center currently houses Computing and Information Services (CIS), which includes both administrative offices and infrastructure, such as servers for the campus computer system and fiber optic connections. The use of this centrally located building for secondary administrative functions and anonymous 'black box' technology is not an effective use of campus space. Accordingly, this building should be transformed into a new Multidisciplinary Commons at Vassar. The Multidisciplinary Programs are an integral part of the College’s academic mission; fully one sixth of Vassar students complete a major in a multidisciplinary program and there were over 400 freshman enrollees in introductory multidisciplinary courses in 2015. The new Commons would house twelve of Vassar’s multidisciplinary programs that have been temporarily located in Old Laundry Building since the summer of 2013. Old Laundry Building’s restricted layout, anonymous feel, and inaccessibility do not support the unique and varied teaching, research, and programming representative of the Multidisciplinary Programs and their faculty and students. The Multidisciplinary Programs should be provided with a location better suited to the kinds of work they do and that reflects their significance to Vassar’s curriculum and importance in faculty and student intellectual engagement.

Inclusive Learning Community

The Multidisciplinary Commons will provide a permanent institutional home for students and faculty to undertake research and teaching that they are unable to do in other departments on campus. Merging the arts, natural sciences, humanities, and social sciences, the Multidisciplinary Commons will be an intellectual home where members of the community can critically engage issues that are not adequately understood through a single disciplinary lens. The Multidisciplinary Commons’ intrinsic epistemological commitments foster a community of scholars engaged in critical studies through the use of all of the disciplines. As such, the Multidisciplinary Commons functions as a central hub where students and faculty who ordinarily might not cross paths can come together to exchange and debate ideas.

One defining feature of the work of Multidisciplinary Programs includes senior projects and thesis work, which are undertaken by most majors. Much of this work exhibits and reflects themes critical to the College's mission of increasing inclusion and community engagement. In recognition of this work and how built space adds to the vitality of the Multidisciplinary Programs, a new centrally located Multidisciplinary Commons should intimately merge technology, pedagogy, and space similar to the new Project Lab learning space in Old Laundry Building. Such space will help make the Multidisciplinary Commons a destination and gathering place for faculty, students, and members of the larger community engaged in collective work.

Sustainability

As one of the more recently renovated buildings on campus, a reconfiguration of the Computer Center into the Multidisciplinary Commons would be largely non structural in nature. Considerations should be given to highlight the large windows throughout the building in order to emphasize natural lighting. Attention should also be given to the space’s furnishings and finishes to meet high sustainability and ethical standards, such as use of Forestry Stewardship Council wood products and support of local women and minority owned businesses. Currently the building’s highest energy usage is attributed to the campus’ data and server room. The campus has already been transitioning to cloud storage for it’s data needs; transforming the building into the Multidisciplinary Commons raises the question of whether the server room should remain on campus or whether Vassar will fully shift to cloud storage. Similarly, CIS has led the way on campus in managing a fleet of electric golf carts; consideration should be given to ensuring that CIS continues to have electric vehicle charging access at its new location and to whether there are new and creative ways in which the Multidisciplinary Commons could make use of, or share, the electric vehicle infrastructure that is part of the building.

Stewardship

The College’s most recent "Building Condition Audit" (see Appendix) identifies the Computer Center building as in an acceptable condition. The Computer Center’s windows, exterior doors, and air conditioning all received “like new” ratings, while the remaining elements of the building received “acceptable” ratings in the report. Given the sound structure of the building envelope, the space is mostly ready for use by the Multidisciplinary Programs. Some changes and renovations will have to be made to the building’s interior in order to make it a more functional building that can accommodate the kinds of office, teaching, and collaborative work spaces required by the Multidisciplinary Programs. For example, students in the Multis require dedicated spaces in which to conduct the kind of collaborative and individual projects that are a core feature of their work in the programs, whether as independent projects or as capstone senior projects. Within the Multidisciplinary Commons, a Project Lab with various forms of media, flexible-use furniture, and storage for student supplies could help satisfy this need for collaborative space and bolster the Programs’ visibility and identity in the near future.