Testimony of Carol Shoshkes Reiss
Editor-in-Chief, DNA and Cell Biology
Professor, Biology and Neural Science
New York University
Before the New York City Planning Commission
For the Public Hearing on The New York University Core Project
Chairman Burden and Fellow Planning Commissioners:
Thank you for this opportunity to present some compelling academic needs that faculty members in the Biology department have encountered. These limitations in the current physical plant support the profound need for expanded academic space at NYU.
Undergraduate students who are interested in becoming doctors, dentists, veterinarians, and other allied health professions are required by their post-graduate schools, to take one year-long course, Principles of Biology, offered by the Biology department regardless of whether they are science majors or plan to major in a Humanities or Social Science department. This course is one of five required courses for the Pre-Med track at any university. The enrollment in the last few years has doubled from -400 to now more than 800 students.
This surge in student registration has taxed the university to provide large classrooms for the lectures. Because NYU does not have many large classrooms, and many other departments also have large classes for introductory courses. We offer two (duplicate) sequential sections for students each, to accommodate the lecture portion of the course. Therefore, tenured or tenure track professors responsible for Principles of Biology are not available to teach other courses, since they are doing double duty for the Principles of Biology class.
A weekly lab session is also required for each student enrolled Principles Biology. Teaching laboratory space is extremely limited, since each student must have a desk/bench area and only twenty students are in each "section". To accommodate the demand, laboratory sessions are offered from early morning until early evening, 5 days a week and several hours on Saturdays. Last year, a third teaching lab became available, eliminating the late night sessions (to 11 pm). If these students were your children, I suspect that you would prefer for them to have labs finished much earlier in the evening.
Other undergraduate classes offered by the Biology department are computational in nature and require dedicated teaching computer or super-computer labs; these computational courses reflect the growing areas of Biology which analyze information derived from clinical or basic studies (including Genomics and Systems Biology are on enormous datasets. courses a potential enrollment (generally fewer than 25 students) given the infrastructure requirements and intense pedagogy involved. Our ability to offer these highly demanding
computational courses does not meet the student requests to participate. For instance,
Biostatistics always has waiting lists that exceed the class-size by dozens of
For graduate courses, the majority of M.S. students enrolled work full-time in hospitals or laboratories in the greater NYC area. They take classes either at SAM or in the late afternoon and evening. The late day slots are also times of high demand for classrooms because many other departments offer courses at these times for students who have day jobs.
It is difficult for the registrar to block out space for lectures, seminars and computational labs for our graduate students because of space and specialized facilities limitations.
2. Teaching Laboratory Space
The Biology Department teaching labs are currently limited to the 6th floor of Silver Center. In addition to the Biology teaching labs, this floor also has a teaching lab for the Neural Science department and general teaching classrooms in the wing that spans Silver Center and Waverly Building.
The current space on the 6th floor is used to capacity, and will be insufficient to realize the growing demand. The Biology Department's teaching-lab space will need to expand to meet the increasing enrollment in our Principles of Biology course, as well as our lab-based courses that fulfill the requirements of our majors as they pursue various professional schools and career goals. The teaching space has been divided into six lab spaces for all our biology courses, office spaces that are shared by seven clinical professors, a prep room that also serves double duty as an office space, and three support rooms to house shared and support equipment necessary for the teaching labs. As detailed below, these rooms have reached maximum usage.
During the academic year, all six of our teaching labs (rooms 603, 604, 606, 607, and 61 are used extensively throughout the week and by multiple courses and sections. Depending on what courses are taught in these teaching labs and the availability of equipment, they can accommodate 12-20 students per teaching lab. We have three dedicated Principles of Biology labs (rooms 603, 604, and 606) that serve the >800 students in this course. These three teaching labs are in use Monday through Friday, morning through early evening. Our upper-level Biology courses are supported by the other three teaching labs (rooms 607, 609, and 610). Each of these labs is also used throughout the week, morning to late afternoon and in some cases going to early evening.
For any new courses with laboratories to be introduced by the department, it will that such labs, which are generally hours long (for undergraduates, but scheduled into which is ideal from a safety point of view, as well as the staffing that may be required. It is our goal that all Biology majors have one semester of an intensive laboratory course; some students do research in internal Research Laboratories or in the labs of medical schools in the greater NYC area. Any Biology major who wishes to graduate with Departmental Honors must have a research-based thesis, requiring years of research effort.
The Biology Department is in need of an expansion of our teaching labs. There are a number of priorities that are forcing the department to focus on our teaching space: Many of NYU's students enter with an interest in pre-med or one of several other pre-health tracks. These tracks require that students take specific courses and labs. This also coincides with the changes that are taking place for medical school requirements and preparation for the MCAT's.
The Biology Department aims to provide a diverse selection of courses that will give our majors the quantitative, reasoning, and application skills needed to be a scientist. Indeed, virtually all Biology majors take the Principles of Biology course and all are required to take at least one lab-based course.
The Biology Department aims to provide upper-level students with direct and meaningful interaction with their professors. The lab-based elective courses, which are by their nature small and highly interactive, are an essential component of meeting this goal.
To maintain the quality of our Biology curriculum, it is important that the University plan for the eventual expansion of the Biology teaching labs.
3. Space for meetings and conferences:
It is routinely difficult to reserve rooms of any size for meetings and for conferences. Often plans need to be made as much as a year in advance for some venues. Classes get priority in all bookings. Even the Skirball center's Off Broadway theater is used daily for undergraduate courses of large enrollment.
This academic year, I was part of a working group of a committee organizaed by the Provost. To find a space that could accommodate people for a day and a half of meetings, with food on tables in the corridor, we had to travel off campus, to the mid-town area. The program we were organizing will be based in Downtown Brooklyn and will be a cutting edge technology and science center to train the innovators of the future. But, the Core campus did not have a venue where we could brainstorm.
One consequence of the extreme shortage of facilities for conferences is we plan them in other cities or at other universities. There is an economic cost to New York City in hotel rooms booked and restaurant meals not purchased locally.
4. Space in the Core versus more distant areas:
It is desirable to have faculty and departmental offices, classrooms, laboratories, and rehearsal spaces in the Core neighborhood. To be able to walk several blocks in ten minutes from one class or other obligation to another enables effective use of time; in contrast, walking from the WTC neighborhood would add more than a half-hour and traveling by subway from Metro Tech could easily take longer than a half-hour.
Only 10-15 minutes are scheduled between classes for students and faculty to circulate to the next commitment. Downtown Manhattan (Community Board #1) or Downtown Brooklyn/ Metro Tech would not be suitable locations for these educational facilities for Core-based programs.
Lounges, study areas, library resources, and student computer work areas are also essential in the Core. They help to facilitate community among the students, especially the commuting students, which constitute a significant plurality population.
Residential space including dormitories and faculty housing, gymnasium(s), and administrative support offices can easily be located at a reasonable distance from the Core campus and still be functionally accessible.
Thank you for the opportunity to present these brief remarks in support of the New York University Core Project, termed the NYU 2031 Plan. I hope that you will consider the profound needs we currently have and anticipate.