SCENES FROM A CAMPUS

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.

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29 Responses to “SCENES FROM A CAMPUS”

  1. Quaestor Says:

    And people wonder why the cost of higher education is climbing so fast.

  2. FMguru Says:

    I notice it's always the second- and third-tier schools that construct these megaplex student centers. Guess Princeton and Cornell and Duke don't need to rebuild Disneyland-for-horny-freshmen on their campus to fill up their application queues.

    It would be nice to think there's a place for schools that offer inexpensive, no-frills but serious and rigorous college educations. Stripped-down curiculums, emphasis on teaching and learning, solid academic facilities and low overhead. No theme dorms, no I.M. Pei buildings, no satellite campus in Prague, no sports teams, no dozens of deans, no well-funded extracurriculars – just a rock-solid four year degree. Like a good state college or upscaled and tougher community college.

    Sadly, I'm sure we're on our way to a two-track system. Well-off parents of the well-off will have their choice of spending four years in Xanadu or an elite school (along with a handful of top-of-their-class scholarship kids), while everyone else gets to explore the cheap, exciting universe of online learning! Yeah, that's what the US needs – a generation of college graduates granted degrees by clicking on buttons in flash and javascript. Sigh.

  3. ShortWoman Says:

    Heh, a lot of Cancun resorts already include the booze.

    But yeah, I would rather tuition dollars went towards, you know, educating people.

  4. Eric Titus Says:

    I think part of what gets me is that the ideal these schools are schools are going for is an unfortunate cocktail of Suburban Mall, REI, and country club. I mean, they're going to graduate a bunch of folks whose goal will be to get back to those days of sitting around drunk in a jacuzzi all day (not a terrible ambition, but it also displays a certain "poverty of ambition," to pull a phrase from BO). Of course, it's those people who will probably donate money back to the school so they can build a better jacuzzi, after a middling career in finance.

  5. Both Sides Do It Says:

    saw the diseased water joke coming a mile away

    still made me laugh

  6. Middle Seaman Says:

    Doom and gloom just because free prisons allow climbing disallowed in business prisons. As the boss said, it started with selling the country to its rightful rich owners by the Reagan junta. Now, Wall Street has a president and many call it progress.

    Real good education will not suffer much. Even the wet climbers will grow up to be good parents and good productive slaves for the 1%. Some will even end up in the 1%.

    Kids, every generation believes that the next one goes to the dogs. No, it doesn't.

  7. chautauqua Says:

    My school seems to now be in an arms race with a neighboring college to see who can have the most wind turbines. Well, perhaps competition can be a good thing once in awhile.

  8. c u n d gulag Says:

    It looks like the race to the bottom of college education, begins with a race for the top of student amenities.

    But this goes back to the mid-late 70's at least.
    I chose the college I went to, based on the fact that they were going to get a brand new, fully-loaded, film facility in 2 years – for us budding wannabe directors, and not the brand-spanking new gym that was promised in 3.

    Well, a lot more money poured in for the gym than the film facility, so the gym was finished in 2 years, and the film facility not until 4 years after I had graduated.

    I had read years ago about the Japanese education system, K – college, versus our system:
    And, the article said that their college years were even easier than ours – the difference is, that they have it a lot harder in JHS and HS, whereas our kids have it relatively easy – so they go into college with much better fundamentals, so they can take it easier.
    I can't find that article, but here are some explanations of Japan's pre-college education system:
    http://sitemaker.umich.edu/schueller.356/educational_systems
    http://tokyo5.wordpress.com/2010/07/29/japanese-vs-us-schools/

    As for their colleges, if you're interested, you're on your own.

  9. Anonymouse Says:

    Do you think the rush-to-luxury is just matching the expectations of society as a whole? Constant entertainment, no thought to important things (like education)? We have high school work-studies where I work, and they are just amazed that when I went to college, we didn't have television at all–the school was in a valley and cable tv hadn't yet made it out there. We got a couple of radio stations–just a couple!–and that was it. It was the early 1980s and the internet wasn't really a thing yet, and our gym's weight room had about six pieces of equipment and we didn't have a pool, so when we weren't goofing off in class, we…talked to each other! Played frisbee on the quad. Got sodas and sat on the steps by the student union (overpriced frou-frou coffee wasn't a thing then, either).

    I certainly didn't feel deprived of fun because I wasn't scaling a 50-foot climbing wall or contracting some awful disease in a hot tub.

  10. Major Kong Says:

    The climbing wall could be good practice for escaping from the private prison.

  11. Hobbes Says:

    Disclaimer: I love rock climbing, own a harness and shoes, and was a regular (like 3x/week) fixture at a climbing gym back when I had a job that paid me enough to be a member of one.

    That being said, I have no problem with colleges having opulent fitness facilities. One of our huge national problems is with obesity, and if we can entice even a couple of sophomores ruing the Freshman 15 to get into shape, I think that's a pretty decent investment. And I am okay with colleges functioning not only to impart knowledge but also to establish good habits in human beings – like, y'know, fitness.

    Not that this is actually what these gyms are accomplishing, but one can dream. This place is all the gym I need.

  12. JohnR Says:

    "..we'll be offering them free spring break trips to Cancun, alcohol and Valtrex included."

    Hey, for the amount their parents are paying, this is the least the University can do. The customer is always right, right?

  13. Aaron Says:

    I remember pretty clearly selecting my 1st-choice college based on a rapport with an English professor during a discussion about the place of poetry in the liberal arts curriculum. Of course, I may also have been one of the ten most pretentious high school juniors in the country that year. They only had regional rankings for pretentiousness back then so I can't be sure.

    A friend of mine is a high school tutor and college adviser and has to actively steer kids away from places that have mediocre schools and nice facilities.

    People are less willing to share rooms. Two generations ago everyone shared rooms. One generation ago it was traditional to do it in college.

  14. sluggo Says:

    At the university where I work, I just heard that an older, sturdy, albeit needing some modernization, will be torn down and replaced with a new one.

    I don't think things here are as lavish as other schools, but this is still a shame. There is no reason a seventy year old building cannot last another seventy years (and probably seventy more after that).

  15. sluggo Says:

    Dorm. Sorry, the missing word was dorm. An older dorm is being torn down.

  16. BigHank53 Says:

    Fifteen years ago I was listening to a panel on the Daine Rehm show debate something-or-other in high schools (I can't remember if it was Channel One or fast-food franchises or whatever) and one person used the phrase "future consumers." Nobody else on the panel corrected him. At one point we at least paid lip service to the idea of "future citizens", but I guess those days are gone. The GOP wants subjects, and the Democrats are too nervous about pissing off Wall Street and the MOTU to call them on it.

  17. mothra Says:

    Kids these days lack imagination. Hell, when I rode my dinosaur to college all we needed was a joint and strong coffee for recreation.

  18. Jared Says:

    If they're going to spend a lot of money on athletics, better it's for a gym that everyone can use than on a stadium or a sports team that has little or no practical value to anyone else.

  19. Bitter Scribe Says:

    A 45-person hot tub?

    Forty-five??!!?!

    The mind reels.

  20. blahedo Says:

    sluggo: my university's doing almost the same thing. A dorm right in the middle of campus that is beloved of students and alumni—one of the oldest buildings on campus, actually—is being knocked down to make room for a great big new student union building. The replacement housing, constructed on a separate campus about a mile away, includes rather more amenities than are strictly necessary for student housing.

  21. forwarrick Says:

    "Next thing you know, we'll be offering them free spring break trips to Cancun."

    We do this. It's called Study Abroad. Tuition is paid for by HOPE and other scholarships and grants at UGA. All the parents have to pay for is a program fee and some spending money. Free education abroad, YIPEE!

  22. Greg Says:

    I gave up on them years ago, but for a long time the Boston Globe seemed to run two articles about wonderful new student facilities– large beds, gourmet food, and of course the climbing walls– for every one about the horrible, inexplicable rise in cost of higher education. It was funny for a while, then tedious.

  23. Patrick M Says:

    It's true that the disease ridden water in Alabama is kind of low hanging comedy fruit, but the phrase "no small feat" really made it perfect for me. Kudos.

  24. AL Says:

    Sure, the GEO Group may be accused of numerous cases of abuse, but they are working tirelessly to address these accusations…by editing their Wikipedia page: http://www.sbnation.com/college-football/2013/2/21/4011532/geo-group-fau-football-stadium-name

  25. Matt Says:

    Look, let the kids play on the playground equipment – once they get out, they'll have a MOUNTAIN of student debt and exactly zero prospects to pay it off.

    Basically, it's a short period of Disneyland to make spending the rest of their lives in a low-wage, no-job-security, gulag of never-ending and non-dischargable debt somehow tolerable. "Best years of their lives" INDEED.

  26. Kaleberg Says:

    I don't remember my school having any official climbing walls. The serious climbers just climbed whatever walls they found. Just about every building on campus had a number of climbing walls.

  27. pjcamp Says:

    The building I work in has a name plaque on every room and hallway. I work in the AT&T faculty offices down at the end of the Oprah Winfrey Concourse.

  28. KMTBerry Says:

    BUT GOD FORBID THAT WE SHOULD UPGRADE ANY LIFETIME ADJUNCTS TO PROFESSORS AND PROVIDE BENEFITS!!!!!