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What’s the deal with the EPB?

BY CHRIS CLARK | SEPTEMBER 25, 2009 7:20 AM

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I’m walking to my 3:30 philosophy class, approaching the least aesthetically pleasing building on campus. A bland structure, spotted with red and brown bricks piled up five floors, divided by tall columns of gray cement. It looks old and worn. Neglected, forgotten in the economical scheme of the university.

Walking inside doesn’t provide much relief from the sticky humidity of the crippling, Midwestern climate late in the summer. The water fountains have such a weak stream the only way to make them better is to replace them or give them a high dosage of Flomax. The water just drips out the spout. If I really wanted a drink, I would need to bring a straw.

Parched and sweating, I am running a little bit late to class, and, of course, the door is locked. The heavy wooden door slamming behind me is the grand finale of my intrusive entrance, though I swear I tried to close it gently.

But the entrance is just the opening act of the tragic scene. Now, I’m faced with the challenge of weaving through the minefield of desks, just to surrender as victim to the miniature space between the seat and desktop — which I am convinced were originally made for junior-high students. And there are so many people wedged inside the little room, it’s impossible not to piss off at least one person sitting next to or behind me.

The huddle of students produces a collective body heat similar to that produced by a rookery of penguins.

Once I’ve squeezed into my seat, wiped my sweat-soaked forehead and hair with the sleeve of my T-shirt and checked the clock to gauge how long this “time-out” will last, I try to peer out the window. “Maybe, there’s something nice to look at outside,” I think.

But no. The windows in the English-Philosophy Building are like those in a prison cell: thin and sealed shut — a barricade to the outside world. Not only do the windows give students a sense of restriction, but they could also be a hazard in the case of an emergency such as a fire.

Sure, the building is infamously “riot-proof.” But who cares? I have no reason to riot. Hell, I can’t even think of something that would make me want to riot. OK, maybe if the Hawkeyes win the Rose Bowl or take a trip to the Final Four in March. But even if they did, what student celebrates a victory like that by rioting at the EPB?

Last week, the state Board of Regents approved a $17 million expansion and renovation of the Dental Science Building. The dental program has seen increased enrollment in recent years, and there are some improvements that could, and probably should, be made at some point.

But that money could have been better spent elsewhere.

The washed-up building houses some of the writers in the internationally recognized Iowa Writers’ Workshop. The Workshop is arguably the most famous program offered at the university, producing 16 Pulitzer Prizes since 1947 and helping Iowa City receive the designation of City of Literature, joining Edinburgh, Scotland, and Melbourne, Australia. Those graduate students deserve new offices, a fresh setting for their work.

The EPB is also host to a number of rhetoric courses, forcing freshmen to file in each day and sit shoulder-to-shoulder with a bunch of other socially awkward UI newcomers. Sitting through a mandatory class in a room that seems more like a sauna doesn’t encourage students to attend.

The philosophy department is also locked up in the EPB. Philosophical reflection and teaching demands that a student stretches her or his mind, but there is no room to do so when it’s difficult just to bend over to retrieve a notebook and pen from your bag.

This shoddy building is desperately in need of a makeover.


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