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Thursday, November 25, 2021

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Date: November 23, 2021 

To: Susannah Scott, Academic Senate Chair, UCSB 

Henry Yang, Chancellor, UCSB 

Cc: Michael V. Drake, UC President 

Cecilia Estolano, Chair, UC Board of Regents 

Robert Horwitz, Chair, UC Academic Senate 

From: Concerned UCSB Senate Faculty 

Re: The planning of Munger Hall at UCSB 

The UCSB Academic Senate Town Hall Meeting, “Faculty Questions on the Munger Hall Project,” held on November 15, 2021, intensified pervasive and significant concerns about 

(a) UCSB administration’s lack of response to fundamental questions about student well-being related to the Munger Hall project, including concerns about mental health, physical safety, security, and accessibility; 

(b) student housing options on campus and future housing projects; 

(c) building funding, planning and construction processes at UCSB; 

(d) abrogation of the right of faculty shared governance; 

(e) the impact of these decisions on UCSB’s stated commitment to social justice and equity; 

(f) UCSB administration’s failure to adequately take into account and address the opinion of experts in architectural design and rethink the design to ensure student well-being. 

To elaborate:

On the Design of Munger Hall: A broad swath of architectural design and housing experts both within and outside the university have criticized the design. Among its many problems we call particular attention to: (i) lack of natural light and ventilation—particularly the absence of openable windows; (ii) floor plan that reveals poor organization of space at the scale of the rooms, the suites, and the entire floor space at each level; (iii) inadequate thought given to student accommodation and well-being, given what we know about virus transmission, quarantine, and recovery in situations such as COVID-19; (iv) poor wayfinding and evacuation plans that would greatly endanger students in fires, earthquakes and other disasters; (v) massing and volume; (vi) environmental sustainability. 

We, the faculty, are gravely concerned by these issues, and we urge the UCSB administration, including Chancellor Yang, to address openly, explicitly and responsibly the many questions regarding the current design’s impact on the safety, security and mental well-being of the students. These fundamental questions were not answered at the November 15 Town Hall meeting and we urge the administration to answer them now. 

On Due Process: A key reason for the current state of affairs is that the usual design review process that has governed campus construction over the last 30 years was bypassed. The request-for-proposal stage of the design review process was ignored, thereby eliminating potential competition to Munger’s design. When the design review committee and its panel of architects were asked to comment, their views were not adequately taken into account. 

We have two options to move forward: 

1. Stop the plans. Begin the entire design process again following the established procedures of the design review committee. 

2. Halt the process and modify the plans. Consider the advice of a joint committee of experts on design, health and safety, drawn from both outside and inside UCSB, including Academic Senate Members and student representatives. The UCSB Academic Senate must have a say in the composition of such a panel of experts, the issues they will be asked to consider, and the way in which their recommendations would be implemented. 

We wish to send a clear message to the Chancellor, UC Office of the President, the UC Board of Regents, and the donor, that we will not accept inequitable and unsafe options for student housing. 

While we recognize the measures that must be taken to resolve the immediate housing crisis, we call on UCSB to democratically and transparently develop a long-range housing plan that ensures safety, affordability, community responsibility, and environmental sustainability for students, faculty, and staff. Not only does UCSB have a responsibility in this regard, but so do the President of the University and the UC Board of Regents. 

Sincerely, Concerned UCSB Senate Faculty, including, 

Constance Penley 

Swati Chattopadhyay 

Laurie Monahan 

Eileen Boris 

Dominique Jullien 

Bishnupriya Ghosh 

Lisa Hajjar 

Jeffrey Stopple 

Bassam Bamieh 

John Majewski Richard Wittman 

Ann Bermingham 

Michael Curtin 

Ann Jensen Adams 

Omer Egecioglu 

Mark A. Meadow 

Harold Marcuse 

Catherine L. Albanese 

Heather Badamo 

Sabine Frühstück 

William Robinson 

Barbara Herr Harthorn 

Herbert M. Cole 

David White 

Steven Gaulin 

Bhaskar Sarkar 

Kip Fulbeck 

Barbara A. Holdrege 

William Elison 

Kate McDonald 

Christina Vagt 

Juan E. Campo 

Arpit Gupta 

Julie Carlson 

Elisabeth Weber 

Stephan Miescher 

Jenni Sorkin 

Janet Walker 

Kevin B. Anderson 

Nancy Gallagher 

Aazam Feiz 

Hilary Bernstein 

Wolf Kittler 

John S. W. Park 

Silvia Bermudez 

Sara Pankenier Weld 

Marko Peljhan 

Jorge Castillo 

Jill Levine 

Evelyn Reder 

Kim Yasuda 

Erika Rappaport 

James Frew 

Janet Afary 

Fabio Rambelli 

Amr El Abbadi 

Giuliana Perrone 

Salim Yaqub 

Elena Aronova 

Cristina Venegas 

Stuart Tyson Smith 

Phill Conrad 

Volker M. Welter 

Adrienne Edgar 

Joseph Blankholm 

Simonetta Falasca-Zamponi 

Catherine Nesci 

John W. I. Lee 

Sylvester O. Ogbechie 

Daniel Masterson 

Grace Chang 

Daniel Reeve 

Enda Duffy 

Roberta L. Rudnick 

Leroy Laverman 

Walid Afifi 

Iman Djouini 

Cherrie Moraga 

Dorota Dutsch 

Mark Maslan 

Charmaine Chua 

Roberto Strongman 

Amrah Salomón J. 

Ralph Armbruster Sandoval 

Carlos J. Garcia-Cervera 

Darren Long 

Sharon Tettegah 

Aashish Mehta 

Kaustav Banerjee 

Miroslava Chavez-Garcia 

Helen Morales 

Casey Walsh 

Terrance Wooten 

Birge Huisgen-Zimmermann 

Felice Blake 

Juan Cobo Betancourt 

Mario Garcia 

Scott Marcus 

Ingrid Banks 

Jody Enders 

Nelson Lichtenstein 

France Winddance Twine 

Lisa Jevbratt 

Ellen McCracken 

Juan Pablo Lupi 

Gisela Kommerell 

Edwina Barvosa 

Jeremy Douglass 

Valentina L. Padula 

Mayfair Yang 

Harvey Molotch 

Sven Spieker 

Monday, November 15, 2021

Monday, November 15, 2021
By Richard Wittman
Associate Professor,
Department of the History of Art and Architecture, UCSB
for today's Academic Senate Town Hall meeting, 
in collaboration with the UCSB Architectural Historians Group

Thank you very much for the invitation to speak here today. Time is short, so I will dive right in.

Munger Hall is a highly experimental design based on completely untested theories. It crams over 4500 young undergraduates into tiny windowless bedrooms at a density comparable to some of the densest urban concentrations in the world. And yet it claims that it will have beneficial effects on student well-being, and poses them no danger. What is the evidence for this claim? There is none! 

Munger Hall is justified uniquely by the unsupported, fact-free assertions of the billionaire architectural hobbyist who conceived it. It cannot be said often enough: no serious supporting data has been brought forth to support the claims made in favor of this outlandish design. And yet UCSB is proposing not a small experimental building, but a pharaonic investment of $1.5 billion in what would be the largest dormitory building in the world. It is difficult to exaggerate how completely irresponsible this would be: to gamble on that scale on a project whose entire rationale is untested and which is regarded skeptically by an almost universal consensus of knowledgeable professionals. And to make that gamble with the wellbeing of our UCSB students.

This project is also a slap in the face to recent global efforts in the architecture industry to mitigate environmental degradation and climate change. A key tenet of those efforts is sustainability. Sustainability refers to passive strategies to reduce energy consumption, like considering sun orientation when sitting, or being thoughtful about window placement; it refers to using renewable energy sources like solar and wind power, and low environmental-impact building materials. The current design of Munger Hall essentially ignores these strategies, for instance by shutting out the sunlight that is one of Santa Barbara’s most abundant natural resources. 

Do not be deceived by the building’s LEED Gold certification. The LEED system is widely recognized as a problematic guideline that very often has more of a public relations value than a real connection to environmental outcomes. Munger Hall exemplifies this, as it is based on an outdated, unsustainable approach to building, in which the building fundamentally depends on mechanical systems to defeat and exclude nature, and to create an entirely artificial environment.

The design of Munger Hall is profoundly problematic in terms of our students’ mental and physical health. There is clear scientific evidence that a lack of natural light and ventilation has adverse impacts on human beings. (As the LA Times recently reported, even prison design in the US is required to provide windows, as well as lower density.) 

But also consider the COVID pandemic. Imagine living in a windowless cell, somewhere near the core of the most densely packed building you’ve ever lived in (or ever will live in), during a pandemic, when every knowledgeable party is telling you that the safest place is outdoors and at a distance from other people. Imagine having to quarantine for two weeks in such a windowless cell. Graduate students at Mr Munger’s Michigan dorm building have had to do just this, and have spoken wrenchingly about the effect it had on their mental health. Being ill is never fun, but being ill in Munger Hall would be hell.

We know that there is a severe housing crisis in the Santa Barbara area. We all have students who have been unable to find lodgings, or who are even living in cars. We are not utopians who oppose Munger Hall out of obliviousness to the problem it is meant to solve. (And we certainly don’t oppose it because we are “idiots” or because we “hate billionaires,” as Charlie Munger has so charmingly alleged in his public remarks.) 

No, we oppose this building project because it is a disgrace. Because it will damage the wellbeing of our students. Because no serious evidence has been provided to support the claims its boosters have made about its benefits. Because it will damage the reputation of our university. Because it betrays UCSB’s commitment to safeguarding our natural environment.

Indeed, Munger Hall has already turned UCSB into the target of critical articles in all the major US papers and in many foreign ones too. My colleagues and I launched a petition about Munger Hall and received nearly 3000 signatures in a week! A petition by an undergraduate who targeted undergraduate social networks received over 12,000 signatures! Meanwhile, barely a single credible voice supports this design. 

Our petition has had dozens and dozens of comments from past, present, and potential future UCSB parents saying that they would not allow their child to live in Munger Hall, or in some cases even to go to UCSB if Munger Hall were built. The message is pretty clear: the stakes are high; the leadership at UCSB needs to step away from this monstrous project, the sooner the better, before lasting damage is done.