I had thought it was all behind me. I had thought I was forever done with those institutional desks we had to sit in during classes in college.

I’m talking about those small chairs with the little tray-table welded to one side. In college classrooms across the land, fully-grown adults are forced to wad themselves up into these shrunken, off-balance desks with their completely inadequate writing surfaces.

That these desks predominate in college classrooms seems odd, because in most high schools, you’ll find perfectly acceptable desks with full-size, rectangular writing surfaces. Why the downgrade when one moves on to university?

During college, I remember seeing six-foot six-inch athletes practically supine, wedged within these horrid chair/desk hybrids, marketed as “ScholarMatic 9000 Series Tablet Arm Seating Systems featuring ergonomic design and large L-shaped work surfaces.” I don’t know if the athletes were too tall to sit up straight-or if appearing to pay attention in class wasn’t cool-but either way, you could see they, and I, were suffering in our ScholarMatic 9000 seating systems.

Plus, the writing surface isn’t large enough to accommodate a laptop or other ordinary scholastic material. Is it asking too much of a collegiate desk to handle a textbook and a notebook?

If you stack books on one of these things and then manage to get up out of it, the desk is liable to tip over. They’re diabolically designed to be off-balance and too small. I can’t even see that they’re stackable. The attraction must be their low cost, yet that doesn’t explain why budget-starved high schools ordinarily buy full-size desks.

Size-wise, there is more of me to cram into these contraptions than there was 30 years ago, but even back then I couldn’t stand those desks. Now that I’ve acquired a more ample girth as well as the adult prerogative to speak up, suffering in an institutional college desk is out of the question. No more sitting duck for me.

I recently attended a famous and respected conference at a far-off college. I was delighted to see that although my breakout session took place in an ordinary classroom, the seating arrangement was a modular conference table. How civilized. Full of thanksgiving was I, even as I suspected the purchase decision was made under pressure of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Aflutter with gratitude, I made a special effort to thank the director of the conference for accommodating our group with decent seating. I caught her as she was walking down the hall with another woman. Finding my opening in their conversation, I remarked that I refuse to tolerate being twisted into those objectionable desks of yore. “Thank you for providing us with spacious and comfortable desks. There’s nothing I hate more than those old-fashioned cramped desks that offer no room to spread out and be real.”

As I was gushing away, I noticed this woman became flustered. Turns out the woman she’d been talking with was in the midst of lodging a heated complaint about the desks in her particular classroom, which were, wouldn’t you know, the old-school type. The complainer, of buoyant build and assertive demeanor, was demanding an immediate switch to more comfortable seating.

I admired her forthrightness even as I was embarrassed by the ironically bad timing of revealing my own good fortune. In the lottery of seating assignments, I’d unwittingly won and was witlessly crowing in front of one less fortunate. I was rubbing it into this poor woman who had come a cropper over the very issue I was exulting over.

Now I’m reluctant to return to this conference next year, knowing the odds are against me drawing the one classroom with good seating. I'll surely get a typically furnished classroom, into which I can visualize rolling a cushy chair from a nearby faculty office, or hauling in an entire conference table, or, so help me, calling a maintenance man to drag in that rump-sprung couch from the reception area of the English department.

I would immediately draw fire as the High-Maintenance Lady Who Insists on Having Her Own Throne (like I need to throw fuel on that fire). But I am too far gone into the ask-for-what-you-need approach to endure a week of writing on the postage-stamp surface of a ScholarMatic 9000 one-armed bandit of ergonomically crippling size and design. Maybe what I should do is enlist the complaining woman. We’ll start a campus protest . . . a sit-in, of course.

Ingrid Cummings is a Zionsville resident, public speaker, writer and broadcaster. E-mail her at ingrid@rubiconbrio.net.

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