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Radford students, faculty and staff are dissatisfied with the current conditions of Porterfield Hall, where the art and graphic design departments are housed. Graphic design students make up the largest percentage of any single major in the College of Visual and Preforming Arts at RU, with 122 students enrolled in the major as of 2014 nearly outnumbering out the entire Dance and Theatre departments combined.
The majority of these students’ classes take place in Porterfield Hall, specifically in the graphic design lab, which many students simply call “the lab,” which contains 20 Macintosh computers. Due to severe class overcrowding, caused by a total of only two permanent teachers with the assistance of three graduate students for introduction classes, most upper-level graphic design classes have upwards of 25 students at a minimum, going up to 30 in some extreme cases.
These space conditions have led to complaints from both faculty and students in the department.
“There just isn’t enough space to spread out; I have my laptop, my sketchpad and if I move my stuff out I’m in someone’s space, and it feels like if I move back in my chair I’m going to hit someone’s back,” said Rachel Jones, a junior graphic design major. “I showed up late to class once, there were 27 of us, 20 kids on computers, six crowded around in some tables brought together on laptops, and then me standing all the way in the back trying to work.”
Students are not the only ones concerned with the conditions of Porterfield.
“It’s impossible to give a good critique with 25 students, 15 is the perfect number really, and maybe you can do it with 20, but at 25 or more you can barely look at what they’ve done,” said Professor Ken Smith, a professor of graphic design. This lack of staff has led to a strict schedule for classes. “We only teach some classes in the spring, meaning that if a student fails that class they would have to wait a whole year to retake it.”
On top of a very stringent schedule, students that are not graphic design majors cannot sign up for these classes.
“I had two interior design juniors who should’ve been in branding design, but we didn’t have room, we have to make do with what we have” Smith explained.
This schedule has led to, as Jasmine Torres, a junior, graphic design major and President of Radford University’s American Institute for Graphic Arts (AIGA) said, “A lot of sleepless nights in Porterfield trying to get work done.”
“You have a lot of things you need to buy: computer software, art materials and text books for all of your classes.” Three of the major programs used are sold in a bundle by Adobe and cost “$600 per year,” said Jones.
Computer programs and art supplies are not covered under financial aid, which leaves many students making “A lot of phone calls to mom and dad,” explained Torres.
Professor John O’Connor, called the graphic design department, “A black eye for the University.”
O’Connor mentioned Liberty University’s graphic design department, which, “At the beginning was mostly comprised of RU alumni as staff.” Since its inception a few years ago, Liberty University’s graphic design majors has increased to well over 600 as of 2015.
Both Smith and O’Connor, who have a combined total of 50 years graphic design experience, want the graphic design department at RU to be this way but, Smith said “We have to take a more practical approach.” This practical approach has led to putting a cap on majors accepted into the college due to “It not being fair to only teach 20 kids and then having 10 left back.”
One student pointed out that there was a crack running along the entire back structural wall, and that some of the brick appeared to be displaced. The crack had appeared to have shifted some of the brick in the wall. The crack seemed to go down almost the entire length of the hallway, cutting into caulk, and in some places noticeably moving displacing brick by at least half an inch. The crack finally ended in the basement of Porterfield in the piano lab.
During an interview later in the week with O’Connor, a worker from the building and services department showed up for a few minutes to inspect the wall and determined it to be “Not an immediate issue.” When asked when it might be fixed the worker replied “Whenever renovations happen.”
Major renovations have not happened since at least the ’90s.
Jasmine Torres recalls the last time Porterfield was updated, “They gave us lockers a year or so back, the only problem was that they were too small and blocked all of the electrical outlets.”
”I never really thought about what I needed fixed, I just assumed that it wouldn’t (be),” Nick Umstead, an alumni of the university and now a teacher in the department said.
This is not an uncommon opinion in art departments across the nation, not just at RU. This is due to most schools putting a larger focus on STEM departments or science, technology, education and math.
Radford’s building and services department is assessing the questions asked to them about the cracks in Porterfield’s walls, and any renovations that may be occurring in the future.