The 10th anniversary of President Shirley Ann Jackson’s administration certainly deserved celebration, but the one we got was a bit overdone. From the Board of Trustees lecture on Thursday (complete with caviar and prime rib) to the evening of entertainment on Saturday, no expense was spared. However, I was left wondering: if I was a potential donor or investor, would I really be impressed by all this? The final output of a university is two-fold: the knowledge and skills acquired by the students and the discoveries and intellectual property made by faculty and students. We heard very little about either on Saturday evening.
There seems to be a general trend towards increased attention on appearances, rather than results. This is evident in the recent improvements to the walkways around the VCC. I understand that the appearance of a campus subtly affects people’s attitudes and I am strongly in favor of maintaining a vibrant, beautiful campus. However, I also believe that form follows function, i.e. the function of infrastructure should be the first priority and the proper form will follow. I am thus disappointed with the new walkways. It has been known for thousands of years that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. The walkway from the Jonsson Rowland Science Center to the Hassan Quad has been replaced with a curved walkway, so many people are walking the straight diagonal on the grass. I hope that if the new science center is ever completed, it will somehow correct this failure. A few other things annoy me, for instance the way the benches around the trees were removed from the front of Amos Eaton as well as the lack of a direct path from the library to the science center.
I also question the need for copper cornice work on the ’87 gym. Copper is a rather expensive metal, and I can only wonder how many thousands of dollars such work must cost. As another example, consider how the administration tore down a perfectly good solar panel array near the VCC, because it was an eyesore. Also, consider all of the promotional videos and other acts of self-aggrandizement such as the Alumni Hall of Fame. Finally, we all have heard of the new house being constructed on Dr. Jackson’s property to entertain guests.
This is all part of the commercialization of the university. The original model of a university, dating back to the medieval era, was a sanctuary for learning and intellectual exploration. Today, the university has become more of a corporate entity, whose customers are students, government, and large corporations. To compete, some universities have resorted to advertising campaigns. However, in the end, funding will find its way to universities that produce results. The faculty are the ones who directly create these results. In the future, I hope that the administration will pay more attention to the needs of faculty so we can see more results than puffed up publicity campaigns.