Injustice for Colgate’s Seniors: The Problem with Senior Thesis Carrels

The best-hidden but deeply injurious bureaucratic system at Colgate is Case Library’s senior thesis carrel assignment lottery. This semester, 38 members of the Class of 2014 were denied study spaces in Case. Although they were supposedly given priority in the lottery process, at least 15 of the 38 students were working on one or more theses for departmental honors.

Senior Morgan McCollum, who is writing an honors thesis in political science, was among those denied this semester. McCollum has checked out over 30 library books to use for her project and knows that not having a carrel will significantly affect her thesis-writing process. “I know at the end of the year when I have my finals and my paper due, I will have a significantly more stressful time completing my work than those with a carrel, and that’s unfortunate,” McCollum said.

Senior Margaretta Burdick, who is writing two departmental honors theses in political science and psychology, also feels let down by the outcome of the process. “It is frustrating to be an academically-dedicated student working towards two departmental honors project and not have the carrel. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect the school to provide a carrel for all who are working toward honors, particularly for theses involving extensive use of library resources,” Burdick said.

For disciplines that require a large number of books, such as history, political science and art history, not having a place to keep these heavy items, or not having a reserved seat at all times, can be detrimental to students’ access of library resources.

Having seen the list of students who were denied carrels, I can say with confidence that these students are among the most dedicated and dynamic individuals in the senior class. Many of the students who were denied did have carrels in the fall semester and frequented them daily. As is evident to anyone who has visited the second floor, where the majority of thesis carrels are located, an alarming number of carrels remain empty on a day-to-day basis, housing their owners only on Sundays, during midterms and the last few weeks of the semester. The tragic irony of the “lottery” this semester is that the students who, in my opinion, used their carrels the most last semester made up the majority of those denied carrels this semester.

“I have overheard a number of people with carrels saying that they will probably only use their carrels for midterms and finals, or that they barely used it last semester, and yet have another this semester. I know that I was at my carrel every single day last semester, as were my other classmates, and I wish there was some way to distinguish between who is actually going to use the thesis carrel for its intended purpose and who isn’t,” McCollum said.

This issue will persist and may become more severe as Colgate’s class sizes increase and the academic quality of students accepted to Colgate continues to increase as well, as the Admissions Office frequently boasts. Thesis carrels should replace many of the carrels that are currently open for general use. Seniors writing theses are undertaking projects that are the culminations of their academic careers, whereas underclassmen have significantly lighter workloads and lower stakes.

Given the number of honors candidates denied carrels this semester, it is frightening that there is such an astoundingly high number of carrels open for general use by those who seem to have significantly less challenging workloads. Case Library’s generous size and luxurious character seems to be perfectly able to accommodate large, comfortable chairs throughout the building (go to the back of the second floor for visual evidence). It is quite disturbing that Case Library prioritizes having spaces for students to sleep over the needs of its most academically engaged students.

Contact Eliza Graham at [email protected].