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Students protest for better architecture program

The students of USF’s School of Architecture and Community Design held a peaceful demonstration Wednesday in an effort to raise awareness that their college is in jeopardy.

“We’re here for the future of the school and to keep the education level high,” said Mike Ballester, a graduate student in the school.

The demonstration, which made its way from USF’s main entrance on Fowler Avenue to the Phyllis P. Marshall Center, was organized to raise awareness of the school’s problems. As part of notification students created a petition to be sent to USF President Judy Genshaft, which went without action.

One of the main issues the students have is the insufficient amount of studio space offered in comparison to the number of students. Student Beverly Frank said she believes that each architecture student should have access to his or her own studio space 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We, as architecture students, are here 16-20 hours a day most of the time,” Frank said. “Sometimes we’re even in the studio for days without going home.”

Frank added that students are either sharing space or left without any studio space at all. Students also expressed their anger in a letter sent to USF administration and alumni from the School of Architecture. The state accreditation board sets the standards for these conditions, the letter states. Some students are allotted as little as 24 square feet of studio space each when the State University System’s Architect’s Office mandates that studio space be no less than 70 square feet per student. When it comes to the school’s accreditation the requirement is even greater, Frank said.

The students are now worried that the school will be in danger of losing accreditation when the school is visited next year.

“Without accreditation, our degree isn’t worth much,” said Eva Schone, a graduate student who helped organize the demonstration.

Also included in the letter to USF is information on when the National Architectural Accreditation Board visited the school in 2000. The NAA Board granted accreditation though expressed concerns. The Board listed a need for additional studio space, saying that the facilities “only minimally meet studio needs.” It went on to say that thesis students were working away from the studio in search of better accommodations.

Another concern expressed by the NAA Board was “the lack of a proper shop with appropriate tools and staff oversight” and listed it as “a clear weakness.” Although the school passed this requirement, which was due to its loading dock and a workshop at the Fine Arts Building, the Board made it clear that this location was “simply too far away to be of substantial assistance.”

“It’s such a hakssle that most students don’t even use the workshop,” Frank said.

The last thing the Board listed as a worry was “the ambitious growth plans of the university and the School.” It stated that this “cannot be initiated without attention to facilities needs.”

“This year has been three-fold as far as incoming students,” Frank said. Without any new space, she said: “Why are there 80 new students?”

The concerns of the student body in the school regarding the higher number of students enrolled include loss of opportunity to recruit “top” students into the program, safety issues and significantly increased students to professor ratios.

“We’re paying graduate tuition for a teacher student ratio of 1:5, when in reality it varies from 1:15 to 1:30,” Schone said.

The students demonstrating said they agreed that growth and expansion of the college has generated many positive outcomes such as increased awareness and recognition of the program and, its faculty and students. But students feel they are now paying graduate tuition, along with new off-campus fees without a proportional educational return.

The off-campus fees, which went into effect this semester, are paid by all architecture students but vary based on the amount of credit hours taken.

“Our college is in the University Technology Building, which is considered off-campus,” said Adam Fritz, a third-year graduate student. “But we’re being charged these fees even when we take classes in campus buildings such as Cooper Hall.”

The inconvenience of having to take classes in other buildings doesn’t compare with the price some students must pay — which includes having classes taught in hallways or outside.

Although a new building is on the PECO list of upcoming projects, its priority level remains a question.

“I’ve been here for 16 years and for 16 years we’ve been promised things,” said Steve Cooke, a professor of first-year grad students.

Donna Hedricks, a third-year graduate student, said she believes it is all just a matter of politics. She said the state is already spending more money with the allowance of too many students in the program. This, she said, could be a major deterrent when it comes to the state forking over more money for a building.

“I’m sick and tired of students and schools getting stuck in the middle of political battles,” Hedricks said. “Everybody has a little fault, so they should stop pointing fingers and come up with a resolution.”

In addition, students in the school were awarded the best school in Florida by the Florida Board of Architecture and Interior Design, as well as being recognized by the Florida Chapter of the American Institute of Architects since 2001.

“It’s sad that here we are being asked to be creative in the design of buildings for this campus, and we don’t even have one,” Schone said. “It’s rather ironic.”