SCENES FROM A CAMPUS

Posted in Quick Hits on February 21st, 2013 by Ed

Two vignettes:

1. Florida Atlantic University sold the naming rights to its football stadium. This is not particularly noteworthy these days. I wrote many, many years ago that it was only a matter of time until the NCAA copied professional sports and went down that road. It is a bit unusual, however, for a university to sell naming rights to a private prison corporation. The company donated $6,000,000 to the FAU athletic department for the privilege. I have to disagree with the tone of the NYT piece, which emphasizes the everything-is-for-sale environment on campuses these days. While that is certainly true, it's more pertinent to ask why these multimillionaire alumni are so eager to throw money at the football team rather than the university itself. As for the Times' point, many people find me strangely untroubled by the proliferation of corporate sponsoring, advertising, and naming on campuses. It's a zen thing; we've been moving in this direction for 30 years as a society and I've already made peace with the fact that eventually we're going to be reading or playing commercials at the beginning of each class. It's inevitable.

2. Auburn University has announced an absolute monstrosity of a "Recreation and Wellness Center" to begin construction this year. It features, among other things, a "five story fitness tower" and:

50-foot rock climbing wall with an auto-belaying system, four bordering caves for lateral climbing, a a 20-foot wet rock climbing wall in the 20,000 gallon leisure activity pool, a 45-person hot tub in the shape of a tiger paw and a third of a mile indoor track with a corkscrew formation and 10 feet of altitude.

In the past decade universities have started an arms race of non-academic amenities to entice students to campus in a very competitive recruitment environment. They're constantly jockeying to have the most opulent dorms, the most mall-like food courts, and the most Outrageous leisure activities. Gyms are a natural place for the university to be ostentatious, as it's always part of the campus tour for mom, dad, and a 17 year old with no interest in things like degree options, gen ed programs, and student-faculty ratios. In the early 2000s the fad was climbing walls; everybody had to acquire and show off a fucking climbing wall. So Auburn did took the next logical step and built, like, five climbing walls, a double-decker suspended running track, a giant "leisure activity" (read: not for swimming) pool, and a 45 person, tiger-paw-shaped hot tub that is bound to have the most disease-ridden water in Alabama – no small feat – within days of entering into service.

I understand why universities do this. It makes sense. But in an age of declining budgets, rising tuition, stagnant salaries (except for the administrators, of course), and watered down higher education, it's sad that we're competing for students by building them amusement parks, essentially. Yes, kids go to college in part (or wholly) to have fun, but good lord, do we have to be so explicit about it? College kids will manage to have Fun regardless; it would be nice if we didn't have to build, quite literally, big shiny playgrounds full of toys for them. Oh, but woe to the campus that doesn't follow Auburn's lead.

Next thing you know, we'll be offering them free spring break trips to Cancun, alcohol and Valtrex included.