UC Berkeley faculty raises concerns about ventilation in Dwinelle, Wheeler halls

photo of the outside of Wheeler Hall
Vanessa Lim/File
Campus faculty members are expressing concerns over the poor ventilation of both Wheeler and Dwinelle halls, especially in regard to the COVID-19 pandemic. UCPD claims that the windows in the halls, which can only open a few inches, were modified to prevent people from going on rooftops.

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As UC Berkeley prepares to resume in-person instruction in the fall, several faculty members have raised concerns over poor ventilation in Dwinelle Hall and Wheeler Hall, posing questions about safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Following the Occupy Cal movement in 2011, UCPD altered the windows of the two halls, allowing them to only open a few inches, according to Anne-Lise Francois, campus associate professor of English and comparative literature. While teaching in Dwinelle after the limitations were established, Francois said the “stifling heat” created an uncomfortable teaching environment and made it difficult for students to concentrate.

“It is so hard to teach when people are terribly uncomfortable,” said Janet Sorensen, campus professor of English, in an email. “Now with the added risk of COVID-19 and its variants, the university has an awful lot of work to do to get one of the most critical pieces of the risk abatement puzzle—ventilation—in place.”

According to UCPD, the windows in Dwinelle and Wheeler were limited to prevent people from climbing on the rooftops. UCPD added that it plans to evaluate the status of windows in these buildings with campus Facilities Services this upcoming week to determine what steps to take.

Sally McGarrahan, associate vice chancellor of Facilities Services, said in an email that ventilation levels in Dwinelle and Wheeler are acceptable and function as intended. She added that the temperature in Dwinelle may sometimes be too hot or too cold but noted that this does not signify a ventilation issue.

“The windows were limited (prevented from opening fully) for security concerns,” McGarrahan said in the email. “The modifications should not adversely impact ventilation.”

According to Patrick Goff, executive director of the Office of Environment, Health and Safety, campus has responded to ventilation concerns by reducing building occupancy and maximizing the use of outside air. He said in an email that campus will assess air exchange rates in frequently used classrooms. Campus has already surveyed air exchange rates in a majority of classrooms in Wheeler and more than 75 classrooms in Dwinelle, Goff added.

Ian Duncan, campus professor of English, said he would feel “very nervous” to teach in Dwinelle in the coming semester. Sorensen echoed these sentiments and said she will not allow students into her small office unless ventilation is improved in the fall semester.

“I am frustrated that this decision came to be in the hands of police and administrators who can hide behind the opaque language of security and safety without explaining what they mean and without allowing those of us who were most affected by that decision to have a say,” Francois said.

Contact Amudha Sairam at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @AmudhaSairam.