Our Campus

Campus evokes strong memories for graduates. The word was first used in the United States to describe the ground Princeton University occupied. In a letter Charles C. Beatty 1775 wrote to his brother-in-law Enoch Green 1760 on January 31, 1774: “Last week to show our patriotism, we gathered all the steward’s winter store of tea, and having made a fire in the Campus, we there burnt near a dozen pounds, tolled the bell and made many spirited resolves.” From Alexander Leitch, “A Princeton Companion.”

Presbyterian minister, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Princeton President John Witherspoon was there. It seems especially fitting that “campus” was first used in relation to an act of defiance of the King of England. And so too today, campuses are places of social statement, change, and sometimes upheaval. How fitting for what most universities are for so many…places of change.

The grounds, the buildings, the auditoriums, the lecture halls, the student center, the library, the dormitories, the playing fields, are places central to the life of our university deserving of attention. They should be beautiful and encourage interaction provoking memories and creating a sense of belonging to something larger than oneself.

Caring for them should be a high priority. The challenges of deferred maintenance and the great costs of keeping up buildings, and building new ones, are actions worthy of our strongest support.

The campus plays a role no internet address can match, despite the power of the internet to positively effect educational opportunity, which is not lost on anyone one other than the most uninformed.

Some universities, such as the University of Phoenix, celebrate the fact that they don’t have a campus, and therefore place the demands of grounds and buildings on the shoulders of students who study through the University of Phoenix- they don’t go to school; school comes to them – via the internet, sometimes at the dining room table. It is a cost effective way to do business but I fear something very important is lost. The jury is still out on the long term viability of campusless universities.

I was taken by the fact that this year’s Super Bowl was played in the University of Phoenix stadium. I tried to explain to a friend of mine that the beautiful stadium in which the game was played was not on a university campus. In fact, the university campus for which the stadium was named is no different than Coca Cola, and if Coca Cola had purchased the naming rights the game could have been played at Coca Cola stadium. The University of Phoenix is not a place, it can be any place. This took a few minutes to clarify. Now my friend is intelligent, it’s just that the notion of the university is so tied to “place” it was hard to fathom what in the world was going on here.

The challenges of stewardship of the campus and its environs are worth every penny. That’s why we “go” to college. The printing press and the enlightenment, the industrial and information revolutions sustain the university. So too does the campus.

Our university should value and invest it all aspects of the campus. As it was, it should be; a place of beauty, reflection, pride, and interaction. I believe “place” is central to the idea of a university.

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  1. Pingback: Our Universities: Place and Culture | On Higher Education

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