October 9, 2009

Classics Café closes back room

Its patrons are scholars, not fighters, but when Classics Café closed its back room, cutting its seating capacity in half, Classics regulars spoke out.

“Changes to Classics Café should be in the manner of improvement rather than diminishment. We urge reversal of a decision that would eviscerate a singular milieu of humanistic conversation at the University of Chicago,” David Wellbery, Professor of Germanic Studies, wrote in a petition he disseminated online in July in an attempt to save half of the café space.

“It is a utopian space, where undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty exchange ideas in an atmosphere imbued with a tradition of shared learning. It is a Socratic space,” Wellbery said.

The back room, which once drew professors and students in to read, write, study, and converse in large chairs or at wooden tables, now functions as a classroom, Classics 21.

But the café’s intellectual merits, and the petition, which garnered 809 signatures, did not convince the University to reverse the decision. “The issue is essentially closed,” Wellbery said in an e-mail.

Professor Alain Bresson, who teaches a class on grain in the ancient world in Classics 21, said the room is an improvement over others in the building, mainly because it has a video system that other rooms in Classics lack.

“I used to go there sometimes,” he said, “and I understand that many people are not satisfied, but there was a necessity. People had to make a choice, and the [department] chair made a good choice.”

“But that’s my view,” he added.

Business at the café has held steady, despite the smaller space.

“I feel bad that now they’re just sitting around, so close together,” said café manager Marcella, who declined to give her last name. “It was always crowded. Now, there’s nowhere to sit.”