Walker groups worried
By Brian Rosenberg
Changes to several rooms in Walker Memorial have caused many student groups to fear that they will lose their spaces. They are worried about hostility from the Campus Activities Complex and expansion by the School of Humanities and Social Science.
The groups, particularly the humor magazine Voo Doo and the Special Effects Club, began to worry after a third floor darkroom was padlocked last November. The installation of a lock on the third floor showers and the renovation of room 201 also caused concern, according to Brian E. Bradley '89, a Voo Doo staff member.
Concerned groups banded together to form the Walker Memorial Committee, according to Bradley, who entered MIT as a member of the Class of 1976. "People were disturbed by things they were seeing [in Walker]," he said.
The committee has members from several organizations, but most will not admit their membership out of "fear of reprisals from the CAC," said Bradley, who acts as a spokesman for the group. He added that "Voo Doo is willing to be open [about their membership] because we have nothing to lose" from conflict with the CAC.
Phillip J. Walsh, director of the CAC, said that groups in Walker had nothing to worry about. "[The idea of CAC reprisals] is one of the most ludicrous things I've ever heard. I don't have any authority to shift people in and out of student-assigned space."
The Walker committee believes the changes in Walker are part of a plan by the School of Humanities, particularly the Program in Theater Arts and Dance, to assume control of the building.
Committee members cite a 1988 report, "Accommodating the Performing Arts at MIT," as the basis for their suspicions. The report outlines four alternatives for giving the performing arts more space. The choices range from using only existing space to building a comprehensive theater and dance complex on campus.
The cheapest of these plans, involving no new construction, recommends converting either Morss Hall or the Walker gymnasium to a drama and dance theater. The report states, "The functional aspects of the program suggest that additional elements . . . also be located on the third floor of Walker." Ovadia R. Simha, director of planning, believes nothing is happening with the report or its recommendations. "To my knowledge, nothing has been done to implement that option [of converting the Walker gym to a theater]. . . . There is no commitment to converting space to humanities use."
"The report was completed before the Associate Provost for the Arts Ellen T. Harris was named, and she realizes that the best solution would be to try to build new facilities," he added.
Alan Brody, director of music and theater arts, also thought student fears were unfounded. "The creation of a performing arts space for the theater program has not moved forward. We have had nothing to do with non-performing arts groups in Walker, and we are certainly not looking at their space."
Bradley said he found it "rather hard to believe that there was no implementation" of the report's recommendations. "The renovation of the showers was described in the performing arts report. [The action there] just shows what's going on in the building with the SHSS and the CAC," he said.
Showers were a
Locks were placed on the showers on the third floor of Walker during the summer, but not to displace any groups using the building, Walsh said. "We considered the showers a safety concern -- anyone could walk in off the street and take a shower," he said. "Now you have to reserve the showers like any other space. We had no complaints from users of the showers. We were actually thanked for our concern."
Walsh also explained the other changes. "[The darkroom] was locked up because the Department of Public Health said darkrooms could no longer ventilate directly into hallways. We had also seen electrical wiring tied off in sinks [during an annual safety office tour]."
The floor in room 201 was also redone because of safety concerns, Walsh said. The room is one of the few at MIT with a suspended wooden floor. This type of floor is necessary for dance classes because its "give" lessens the chance of injuries.
"Over the years, the floor had lost some of its give, so we replaced it. It's now safer to use," Walsh said.
Bradley expressed concern that the new floor demonstrated a greater commitment to dance than to student activities. "You don't spend $25,000 [Bradley's figure for the floor's cost] if you're not going to use the room for dance for a long time," he said. "Student use of the room is restricted now, because the room is scheduled through the theater and dance people."
"Walker 201 has been scheduled through theater and dance for at least six or seven years," Brody, the head of theater arts and dance, said. "It's certainly been since before [Ann F. Friedlaender PhD '64] became dean of the School of Humanities."
Dramashop were affected
Bradley also saw evidence of the School of Humanities' expansion plans in the efforts of performing arts groups such as the Shakespeare Ensemble and Dramashop. "ASA granted two rooms in the basement of Walker to Shakespeare Ensemble over the summer, but then the doors were repainted to say `Theater Arts Costume Shop,' and a paid employee of the School of Humanities now works in those rooms," Bradley said.
Brody said the School of Humanities was helping these student activities. "The claim that we're taking over Shakespeare Ensemble and Dramashop is nonsense," he said.