The Academic Bathroom


I remember at one point in my career working in an old building that clearly needed to be renovated. But as those things go, funds are at times allocated for different projects on campus and priorities change.

Long story short, the building was not renovated but it was decided to renovate instead the bathrooms inside the building, the bottom floor one (no pun intended) receiving major cosmetic improvements first. So it happened that in a relatively short time span there came to exist beautiful titles, a kind of mosaic pattern, in a room that now echoed, and if I recall correctly the urinals and toilets were also exchanged; but I could be mistaken, because to me urinals and toilets for the most part look the same, as long as they are kept clean.

We had of course installed also, but this happened years later, a hand sanitizer station and also one of those containers that holds foamy soap in a tinted, plastic cube that immediately stops foaming the moment you get it onto your hands. In case any prospective academic bathroom remodelers are reading this, I believe it is possible to install these sanitary “add-ons” on old bathrooms that are still functional. No need to bring in the designer touches and tear out and re-install fixtures to keep clean.

What I found amusing and also highly disturbing upon the birth of the new bathroom in the old building was that when we gave tours to campus dignitaries, they would inevitably be shown the magnificent bathroom. This was done, if I recall correctly, by orders from higher up (no pun intended), and needless to say, this kind of showcasing did not pass the smell test with some of us old-fashioned academics.

How would learning outcomes have been improved with this new wondrous toilet that cost quite a bit to install in the old “sinking” building with classrooms and faculty offices in need of renovation? Why was the decision made to renovate a bathroom that would make the rest of the building look terrible? Was this some sort of ingenious plan, putting the bathroom before the classroom, and funding by decision makers would thus follow?

I do not know, for my business was and is academics. But I would be curious to hear from others, including any photos you might wish to post in response, if you have experienced on your campus any renovation or innovation projects in a vein similar to the wondrous academic bathroom which I have brought to light. Let’s put a stop to hemorrhoidal “thinking” and planning!

3 thoughts on “The Academic Bathroom

  1. Several years ago, my daughter, a good friend of hers, and I made the obligatory college tour in the northeast circuit. After about the eighth college/university with the usual lecture by an admissions person, chat with current students, and the walking tour they all began to resemble one another. All would have been good but none really grabbed the girls as the right place to spend their parents savings. We devised a simple plan–check out the bathrooms. We figured that an institution that cared about the most basic needs of their students (rather than climbing walls athletic tickets, and smoothie bars) would be more caring of them as members of the community. We saw horrible ones, functional ones, prettified ones, hard to find ones, and unisex ones.

    In the end, neither chose any of the schools we looked out. But I can tell you which one I would have chosen: Bryn Mawr had the best bathrooms on the Eastern Seaboard.

  2. It will probably come as a surprise to almost no one, but I actually have several institutional “bathroom” stories. I’ll share just this one.

    I teach on a small regional campus, and for a long time on the floor with the faculty offices, the two restrooms had just single toilets. If the gender-appropriate restroom was occupied and you simply couldn’t wait, you had to run downstairs to one of the large restrooms at the end of each of the three long hallways extending north, west, and south from the building’s large vestibule and lined with classrooms.

    We had somewhat recently outsourced our maintenance, and the new outfit was always reporting on all of the great things that they were accomplishing for us, and yet some very obvious things went long ignored. For instance, there was a loose floor tile right at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the faculty offices. Just about every day, someone would accidentally kick it under the open stairs, and every evening the guy who cleaned the floors would set it back in place. But months passed and no one bothered to cement it back in place.

    More to the point of the topic of this post, the toilet in the men’s room started running and then running continuously–no matter how one jiggled the handle or how one tried to re-set the mechanics of the toilet tank. For about six months, at each faculty senate meeting, when we got to “old business,” I would ask why that toilet was still running. The dean would laugh and say that he would look into it–that he was sure that the maintenance people would get to it, eventually.

    Finally, at one of the faculty senate meetings, we had some “guests” from the university’s upper administration, and when we got to “old business,” the dean looked over at me very nervously. I raised my hand and asked why the toilet was still running. The dean then made the mistake of trying to minimize my complaint by saying something that suggested that I was unduly obsessed with the toilet. I waited for a few moments and then said, “Perhaps I have lost some perspective over this issue, but I’ve discovered that I really don’t like the sensation of sh__ing into a whirlpool.”

    That was a Friday. When I came to work on Monday and walked up to the floor where our faculty offices are located, there was a committee of colleagues who couldn’t wait to show me our “new” men’s room. Not just the toilet, but the sink, the towel dispenser, and even the light fixtures were all so new that a couple of the labels were still on them. And over the weekend, someone had repainted the ceiling and the top halves of the walls and had installed brand new tile on the bottom halves of the walls and the floor. Even the doorknob and the coat hook on the back of the door were new.

    I took it all in for a long moment and then said, “It’s all so new that I don’t feel comfortable using it. At least for a while, I think I’ll have to use the restrooms downstairs.”

    I knew that that would get back to the dean.

  3. Pingback: 2014 Through the Academe Blog: June | The Academe Blog

Your comments are welcome. They must be relevant to the topic at hand and must not contain advertisements, degrade others, or violate laws or considerations of privacy. We encourage the use of your real name, but do not prohibit pseudonyms as long as you don’t impersonate a real person.