In Conversation: Richard DeFlumeri
YSoA Senior Administrative Assistant
LP: Having seen fifteen generations of students go through Rudolph Hall, we were wondering what your thoughts on the prospects of its current denizens might be. As you know, there are incoming students who have never set foot in this building. What are your thoughts on this?
RDF: I think the current class, the class of 2023, their experience is not going to be ideal. Many will spend a year without ever being here, without ever meeting each other, without 6 on 7, or lecture discussions. All of the things that we used to mingle, are now just illegal. It is literally against the law to have a lecture reception. Hopefully it gets better next year, but it’s not going to get better until the Spring. It doesn’t really change until there’s a vaccine. And as for social distancing, it’s hard. It’s diminishing the life of the building. We didn’t really realise how bad it was going to be until the first day of school. We spent all summer getting this place ready, as you all made it perfectly clear that you needed the building. So all this time and money were spent working with the provost and everybody else on campus, because they wanted it closed. They wanted you to move to total remote learning. But in any case, we did it! And then comes the day, eight o’clock in the morning, everything turns on, Phil and I go down to the lobby and – lo and behold – there was nobody there. And as the day went on, people began to filter through, but it wasn’t like the old days. You remember what it used to be like, on the first day we would have a lottery, with everybody in the building – big lecture, big reception, dinner and the whole life out there. We thought you’d still be itching to get to your desks. So after a while, Phil and I just showed ourselves back to the third floor.
MK: Yeah, this has exposed many different ways of working and attitudes to work-space that we were not fully aware of before. There are definitely people who I think prefer this and there are others still entertaining the idea of a return to “normal.”
RDF: To be very clear, choosing to study remotely is, in every way, as valid a choice as choosing to work in and be in the building. The irony of it is that the ones who want to be in the building are the ones who end up having to bend. You can’t violate the orange-blue organisational chart if you don’t ever come to the building. But if you’re from the Blue Group and you stay on in the Orange group, you are now a problem, when the person who stayed at home is not. And that is unfair, because now you’re looking at whether you need to punish somebody who’s actually trying to be here? The answer is yes. Because there’s this greater health concern and none of this is arbitrary – if we don’t continue to maintain control, people will get sick. It’s not a maybe, it will happen. If we relax and start letting people come and go and stay all night, people will get sick – it may happen even with all the precautions. And I’m not going to be a part of that. We’re not in the business of making life-and-death choices. Nobody signed up for that. And yet still, I am deeply awed by how the Deans have led us through this – they have done all they could to deliver the best experience possible under truly difficult circumstances.
MK: Do you have any anecdotes about this summer? Getting ready, memorable moments about preparing for all this?
RDF: As Mr. Spock says on Star Trek 6, in a retirement speech to his prospective heiress (played by Sex and the City’s Kim Cattrall): “Nature abhors a vacuum” – this absence of something that can fill the void. So over the summer, as the vacuum presented itself, the roaches came out. The roaches went: “I think they’re gone. I think this is our building now.” And they started crawling out and we had no idea where so many could have come from. There were dozens of them and they were this big (Figure. 1). And so you look at this orange carpet with this huge bug looking back at you as if asking “What are you doing here?” But we totally pushed them all back in, back into the walls. That was an interesting moment.
MK: I try not to think about them, I haven’t seen that many here.
RDF: Well that’s because we killed them. We had the exterminators come in, because they’re vermin. You know, we have certain thresholds that we don’t pass. That said, one upside to COVID is that the building has never been this clean. The place hasn’t looked this good in years! We’ve managed to clean parts of it that had never been cleaned before, like all the fire extinguishers – why not? In fact, on this (west) side of the building we cleaned the windows – you wouldn’t think this would be a big deal. So we cleaned the windows perhaps a little too clean and then birds started dying. It’s kind of petered out now, because of the season and the migrations. But after we cleaned the windows, for about two or three weeks, there were several dozen birds flying from the west, hitting that high window and then falling to their death into the sunken courtyard. And as you can see from this window down, there’s an entrance from the Head Librarian’s office. So she’d come to work and there would be this space filled with dead broken birds, all crumpled in different directions because they hit the building. They can’t see the window, and so they think they’re flying all the way to York Street. And actually we did find out that, destructive as it seems, our number is not that big. The SOM building kills birds by the hundreds. It’s a killing zone.
MK: You see, this is the kind of stuff we would have never known. So, how did you deal with this issue?
RDF: Well, we just closed the blinds. At some point, our friends at Forestry connected us with some graduate students who are working on this. It turns out you can buy sheets that stick to the window that are hard for the human eye to see but the birds can see it, and so it helps slow them down enough for them to turn away. The only real, permanent solution is to buy special glass. And embedded in this glass is this almost invisible pattern, but that would require even more money than Yale has. So that was an interesting part of the summer.
Figure. 1, In Conversation: Richard DeFlumeri