Sample Comparison/Contrast Essay: Officially Better

What follows is an essay like that students are asked to produce for the C/C assignment in my section of ENGL 1301: Rhetoric & Composition during the Fall 2016 instructional term at Schreiner University. Its topic is of much the same sort as is requested of students, one echoing the earlier sample descriptive essay and the earlier sample illustrative definition essay (from which, indeed, it borrows).  It also adheres to the length requirements expressed to students; they are asked for approximately 1,625 words, exclusive of heading, title,  page numbers, and any necessary Works Cited entries, and the essay below is 1,630 words long, assessed by those standards. Its formatting will necessarily differ from student submissions due to the differing medium. How the medium influences reading is something well worth considering as a classroom discussion, particularly for those students who are going into particularly writing- or design-intensive fields.

As I note in my “Sample Illustrative Definition Essay: Official Averages,” I have been fortunate to occupy a number of academic office spaces since 2004 or 2005. My work at for-profit institutions has not been exempt from that; I have already attested to my office space at the former 56th Street campus of Technical Career Institutes (TCI) in New York City, but I also occupied office space at the Main Campus of that institution, and I have access to office space in my current capacity as visiting faculty at the San Antonio Metro campus of DeVry University. I was able to do much at the school in the Big Apple, and I am able to do much at the one in the Alamo City, so I have favorable opinions of both. However, if I examine them against what I know good academic offices must do–per “Official Averages,” “combine privacy and collegiality, feature a soothing plainness that admits of and encourages being overwritten, and ease the work of research held most vital to the mission of academe”–my office space at DeVry emerges as the better setting.

Admittedly, both my final office space at TCI and the space I have access to at DeVry have a problematic relationship with privacy. My TCI office was a cubicle in a pool shared among ten or so faculty and located at the back corner of the building’s second floor. Our schedules overlapped to some degree, so there were always others in the room. Private consultations with students and colleagues, perhaps in some sense eased by the almost hidden location of the office pool, were therefore not entirely possible; other ears were always there to hear, other eyes there to see, and not all of what was to be heard and seen was of a nature to be opened to others. As noted in “Official Averages,” there are legal issues involved with student records, and much of what is not legally privileged may well be ethically so; TCI made ensuring such privilege challenging.

DeVry offers somewhat better privacy. The office space I have there is also a cubicle in a cubicle pool–and a larger one than at TCI, with at least twenty cubicles available to faculty and others dedicated to support staff. Faculty schedules do not overlap so neatly at DeVry as at TCI, however. I am rarely encountered by more than two or three of my colleagues, and the support staff cubicles are at some remove from my own. Additionally, the cubicle pool is itself isolated from the rest of the campus by controlled-access doors, so that unauthorized entry into the room is far more difficulty than was the case at TCI, where the office door was commonly unlocked to ease the comings and goings of the occupying faculty. As such, DeVry does more to help keep confidential what needs to be, and in doing so, it offers me better office space than did TCI.

The same greater privacy, however, makes collegiality something of a concern. TCI, because it had me in close contact with my colleagues, helped me to converse with them–and because those colleagues were, for the most part, in other instructional units than mine, I had the opportunity to learn from them about matters not normally available to me. It is from such exchanges that new ideas about teaching and research, as well as the world which enfolds both, come, and TCI’s office pool did some of that for me. DeVry’s does not; the few colleagues I usually see are busy with their own affairs, as am I, and while we enjoy cordial–even friendly–discussions, we do not have the time together to go into the kind of detail that makes for new ideas. We have less chance for collegiality in part because of our physical surroundings, which I lament.

I must also confess myself less than pleased with the décor and ability to alter it in both office spaces. At TCI, my cubicle was placed in a row of side-by-side cubicles with shallow partitions between them. The space above my desk was taken up by built-in shelves. Wall space and shelf space were therefore both sharply limited, inhibiting the ability to customize either to any significant degree. Additionally, the partitions and shelves were pained a flat slate gray that stood out in sharp relief against the pale gray flecking of the associated desk surface and the standard black metal of the file cabinet assigned me–as well as the wall, painted a color somewhere between buff and khaki. As such, although all of the colors were neutral, they were neutrals that clashed; they did not form a soothing plainness so much as a jarring one, and, coupled with the inability to decorate, lessened the quality of my TCI office space.

DeVry does a fair bit better. Its cubicles are fairly standard office furniture, the cubicle walls a light gray fabric, the desktop a faux wood, the metal furnishings a pale gray or black. The surrounding walls are themselves an off-white, but one partaking more of gray than of brown. As such, the neutrals of the DeVry office pool work together reasonably well, coming off as more soothingly plan than do the disjunct colors of the TCI office pool–although the wood tone of the desk’s surface still sticks out. Further, the DeVry office materials are more amenable to customization. The fabric cubicle walls are easily reached and are of a kind that allows items to be hung upon them, as some of my colleagues demonstrate with pictures and award notices. Additionally, each of the cubicles is equipped with an integrated whiteboard. Soon after I took my cubicle, its whiteboard displayed a medievalist caricature of my face and a reasonable approximation of blackletter text announcing my name and contact information. They are touches unique to me in the office pool, bespeaking the way in which DeVry’s office space encourages customization–and in which it therefore situates itself as better office space than that I had at TCI.

Décor may well be argued a minor concern, certainly of less importance than qualities that have legal ramifications, but making intellectual work easier is far from insignificant a function of an academic office. Indeed, it can be figured as the most important such function, even at for-profit schools such as TCI and DeVry; both focus on job preparation, to be sure, but both also recognize that instruction benefits from being conducted by instructors who feel valued and supported, and that support extends to their research agendas in various forms. (Additionally, both recognize that having research-active faculty is likely to enhance their curricula and their name-recognition, both of which serve their purposes well.) As such, the fact that my cubicle at TCI did and my cubicle at DeVry does support my research work is to the credit of both.

The two cubicles do not do so evenly, however. The cubicle I held at TCI did make access to parts of my apparatus easier; having shelves above my desk made grabbing things from them easier, and that ease of access made my work faster, meaning I got more of it done. Too, the office afforded me a personal computer with library and database access, as well as some desk-space on which to put things while I worked and a file cabinet that allowed access to other materials entirely. Too, as noted above, it put me in reasonably easy contact with specialists in other fields than mine, which opened me to new and different ideas than I would have otherwise had, thereby increasing the amount of work that I could do and its quality when I did it. In brief, then, my space at TCI helped me to be a scholar, which is exactly what a good academic office should do.

Good as that cubicle was, the cubicle I have at DeVry is better. Admittedly, it does not grant me the same amount of easily-accessed shelf space–only one open shelf and one overhead cabinet compartment–but it does offer more in terms of under-desk storage–I have two file cabinet stacks–and in desk-space–the desk surface is a large L-shape some two and a half to three feet deep, while the TCI desk was a single strip a foot and a half deep. Too, the desk comes equipped with integrated lighting, which allows me to more easily examine those textual objects my work treats than did the cubicle at TCI, and I have additional storage space in the form of a private locker, so I can still have my research materials ready to hand. Add to that the fact that DeVry also provides me the same access to data (a personal computer with library and database access) that TCI did–if not more, given that DeVry’s database holdings are larger than TCI’s were–and DeVry’s office space emerges as doing more to ease my research work than the school in the Big Apple.

Thus, in terms of the combination of solitude and company, of a plain and customizable aesthetic, and of facilitating academic research, DeVry offers a better overall office space than did TCI. It has, admittedly, been some years since I worked in New York City, so perhaps matters have improved there; I certainly hope that they have. Again, I remember my time there fondly, in part because of the space accessible to me at that time, and I wish my colleagues and successors there well. But as I move forward in my own career and settle more fully into office spaces for what I hope will be the long term, I know that I will make those spaces more like what I have at DeVry University in San Antonio.

Work Cited

  • Elliott, Geoffrey B. “Sample Illustrative Definition Essay: Official Averages.” Elliott RWI.com, 21 October 2016, elliottrwi.com/2016/10/21/sample-illustrative-definition-essay-official-averages/. Accessed 10 November 2016.
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