Professor sues Columbia College over air quality of basement classroom
Loop North News

(Above) Google Street View of 33 East Ida B. Wells Drive, part of the campus of Columbia College Chicago. Completed in 1926, it was designed by Alfred S. Alschuler, who also designed the 1927 Chicago Mercantile Exchange Building. It was the location of a national billiards championship in 1938, a bank in the 1940s, and home of MacCormac College in the 1980s. It was purchased by Columbia College in 1999.

14-Mar-21 – An associate professor at Columbia College Chicago has had enough of a basement classroom he says has air quality so poor, it has caused health issues for himself, his teaching assistants, and his students.

Jack Alexander is suing Columbia for $500,000, claiming intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The health issues include headaches, dizziness, nausea, eye irritation, breathing difficulties, and adverse sinus reactions, according to the complaint filed in Circuit Court on February 2.

Alexander, who has engineered audio at more than 5,000 live events, teaches audio arts and acoustics at the private nonprofit college that is known for its creative and media arts curriculum. For the past ten years, until the pandemic, he has taught in LL 11, an 1100-square-foot classroom and lab in the basement of a 95-year-old seven-story brick and terra cotta building.

Photo provided by Thomas Rosenwein

(Left) LL 11, where live audio is taught at Columbia College Chicago. (Click on image to view larger version.)

Whether it was flooding in 2011, water pipes that were installed overhead in the classroom in 2013, or just the age and condition of the building, Alexander says something has caused the poor air quality and Columbia has refused to fix it.

He says he has complained to various department heads at the college with no resolution. In 2013, according to Alexander, the chairman of his department, Dr. Panteleimon Vassilakis, “acknowledged the existence of extensive dust in LL 11 and the need for professional cleaning and air purification,” but the problems persisted.

He even purchased air purifiers at his own expense, to try to mitigate the problem, without lasting success.

Columbia College Chicago
(Above) 2010 photo of Jack Alexander (far left in photo), associate professor at Columbia College Chicago and director of its Live Sound program, Dr. Panteleimon Vassilakis (far right), chairman of Columbia’s Audio Arts and Acoustics department, with Matt Larson (center), vice president of Group One Limited, in front of a digital recording console that had recently been installed in the school’s main lab.

College ‘less than transparent’ about response

Columbia College Chicago, says Alexander, has been “less than transparent” about its response to his complaints.

“As recently as January 2020, the college surreptitiously had staff don HAZMAT suits to remove mold and other materials from the acoustics lab located in the basement close to LL 11 without notification to other staff, faculty, or students,” he says in his lawsuit. “To this day, Columbia refuses to concede that LL 11 is an unsafe environment.”

The tenured full-time professor accuses the college of “calculating that staff members and students come and go and therefore nothing needs to be done to resolve the classroom problems,” with only himself and at times two untenured part-time professors as a constant presence in LL 11.

Alexander is currently teaching remotely due to the pandemic but says Columbia is planning to have all its professors return to teach at the school this fall, and he is dreading it.

In addition to $500,000, Alexander is asking for punitive damages “in an amount sufficient to deter similar misconduct.” He is represented by Chicago attorney Thomas Rosenwein.

By Steven Dahlman | Loop North News | sdahlman@loopnorth.com

FREE WEEKLY EMAIL UPDATE

What’s news in the Loop and Near North
neighborhoods of downtown Chicago.

Signup for our weekly email. No ads, no email tracking, and no charge.

Number of subscribers:

See this week’s update