One of the classes I’m teaching this semester is in UWM’s business building, which was built new about eight to ten years ago, and which came with a zillion bells and whistles: auditorium-style seating with built-in desks, everything carpeted (and with loads of signs informing students – who weren’t asked their preference – not to eat or drink in the room), computers in every room, etc. etc….you know, The Future circa the late nineties. (I should note that the English department, since it serves more students than most departments, cannot hold all its classes in its home building. So no: I’m not teaching business thank god, only teaching in the business building.)

Of course now, the system not having budgeted for maintenance, the rooms look more thrashed than your standard boring classroom (which generally can look decent merely by cleaning it): the carpets are worn and fraying, and the rooms are all tiered and terraced, for no good reason except, presumably, to annoy disabled students, but the plastic step-guards are falling off and held in place with strips of duct tape, etc.

More irritating than any of that: my first class in the room was last Wednesday, and as I wander into the room, I see that only half the lights are on, and so I look for the light switch to turn the rest of them on (it was a typically gray, cloudy winter day, so they were definitely needed). There’s a switch-looking thing by the door (of course it’s all high-tech – no simple buy-at-any-hardware-store switches for future business leaders of America!), but it does nothing but turn all the lights off or turn on the ones that were on to begin with. I have no clue how to turn the rest of the lights on. I experiment with every other switch-looking thing in the room…nothing happens. (I’ll get an angry letter from an elderly woman in Austria in a few weeks, saying “cut that out!” Thank you, Steven Wright.)

So I e-mail the classroom support people, feeling like an idiot as I ask, how do you turn the lights on? The answer?

They’re controlled by the built-in computer. You actually have to log in to the computer network to turn the fucking lights on. (Was I given the password before the semester? Of course not! That might have been vaguely efficient.) So I suppose if the computer bluescreens, we’ll just have to sit in the dark.

On the upside: the desk I sit at looks like something out of a science-fiction movie from the sixties (except it’s covered in painted plywood – budgets, you know) and completely hides the lower part of my body from my students’ view. So, if I wanted to neglect the wearing of pants, no one would be the wiser. Yeehaw.


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