Two Hundred Million Reasons

I was alarmed to read about the windowless design of Munger Hall’s “pods” in Tyler Hayden’s article, as well as the subsequent article by Maria Cramer in the New York Times, which included quotes addressing criticism of the project from Charles Munger. The articles inspired me to read the information on the building offered on UC Santa Barbara’s website, and I must say it is disheartening.

As a high school teacher, a parent of a UCSB transfer student, and also, as Mr. McFadden so eloquently put it, a “human being,” I am intimately aware of the human need for natural light, fresh air, and open spaces — all of which are abundant on the California coast. It is particularly important for the young adult population that UCSB serves because they are in the throes of stress and anxiety upon entering college, and putting their emotional and physical well-being at the forefront is imperative.

Which, as it turns out, is a stated vision for UCSB: “Students’ health and well-being is embedded in the campus culture and valued as integral to everyone’s success at UC Santa Barbara and post-graduation.”

Munger Hall is a bizarre response to this “vision.” We have known since the 1970s that there is nothing healthy — either physically or psychologically — about a windowless atmosphere. Munger Hall may have “flourish and elegance,” but very little natural light and fresh air. Really, which is more critical to the health and well-being of the university’s students, “flourish” or fresh air?

I was also dismayed to discover that the university’s Design Review Committee for a student housing project does not include a psychologist or physician, especially for a project that so determinedly minimizes teenagers’ connection to the natural world. Would it not make sense to include a scientific perspective on the potential impact of the windowless atmosphere on the human mind and body? Especially from a globally acclaimed university system that so highly values science?

While I appreciate many of the features of the windowed common areas and am acutely aware of the need for campus housing, confining students to thousands of Disney Cruise-style cells (cruises which, by the way, last less than a week) in hundreds of “clusters” is the opposite of how the campus should be caring for new students, particularly after what we learned during COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. I can’t even begin to imagine what it will be like for students to be stuck in windowless clusters during a pandemic; but from what science indicates, we must. I certainly hope it does not mirror the experience of Carnival’s Diamond Princess cruise of February 2020.

I am tempted to end with a paragraph about the unlikelihood of Mr. Munger living in a windowless “cluster” — no matter how “cheerful” the “little bedrooms” — or of his staying in an inner berth on a Disney cruise, but I will refrain.

I sincerely hope the administration rethinks the dorm’s design, but it appears highly unlikely. Two hundred million trumps my two cents.

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