Ailts: Pillsbury Hall needs your help

Pillsbury Hall could receive legislative renovation funding, and your voice counts.

by Ellen Ailts

English majors: our time has come.

Pillsbury Hall is the second-oldest building on campus, and certainly one of the most distinctive. The building was built in 1889, and its blend of Richardsonian Romanesque, Victorian, Arts and Crafts and Gothic styles makes the building an unmistakable landmark. (You know, the one with the turret.)

Pillsbury Hall is on the shortlist to receive renovation funding, and could be the future home of the English department. In fall 2017, the Board of Regents approved the Pillsbury Hall renovation as part of the 2018 Capital Bonding Request, presented to the Minnesota Legislature in hopes of receiving $24 million in state bonding to aid in raising the total $36 million needed to renovate. Pillsbury is currently in a state of disuse after the Department of Earth Sciences moved to Tate Lab in 2017, but it’s not like the space isn’t needed. Lind Hall is currently where much of the English department is housed, despite it being an engineering building. If Pillsbury was renovated, open space in Lind could be used to expand programs in engineering and computer science, which would address growing demand for workers in the computer science field, especially. And since Pillsbury is on the National Register of Historic Places, the building can’t simply be torn down — it only makes financial sense to put it to use.

Despite the fact that over 6,000 students take English classes annually, the English department is near-invisible on campus. A simple but significant benefit of the move would be to bring the English department out from the shadows. “People will be able to find the English Department,” department chair Andrew Elfenbein said. “Right now, we are in a building that is labelled in large stone letters, College of Engineering.”

In our age of information, English as a focus of study is a worthwhile and important pursuit. English students learn skills that will never lose value; the ability to analyze and interpret information, empathize with diverse perspectives, and communicate well, whether through spoken or written word, will never be out of demand. Supporting English with resources such as modern classrooms and updated technology would attract more bright and passionate students to our program, and provide spaces that support engagement with their work and their fellow students.

Although current students won’t directly reap the rewards of the move — naturally, renovations will take some time to complete — your voice could help cement the legacy of the department, and of Pillsbury Hall itself. So, how can you help? Whether you’re an English major or just a Pillsbury Hall enthusiast, your voice is needed. The more students from across Minnesota contact their legislators, the more wide-ranging support will be garnered for the cause. Elfenbein considers this kind of support the most crucial. “Students might be surprised just how much it matters. Legislators really care about constituents in the age group represented by the University of Minnesota undergraduate population.”

To find your legislators, go to and enter your zip code.

The department has suggested that students might write an op-ed or letter for their hometown newspaper, write a letter to their representatives or meet with their legislators. So, if the study of literature at the U or the fate of Pillsbury Hall is important to you, make yourself heard—support is needed from all corners of the state, and your voice is absolutely essential.