To a prospective student visiting the University for the first time, the Student Activities Building’s Huetwell Visitor Center – added just 10 years ago – hardly leaves an unfavorable impression. Its multi-colored tile circles and its hanging yellow flags in the shape of the block ‘M’ may not be part of the latest and greatest visitor center out there, but neither does the atrium painfully scream of an era of Space Jam and TLC. The University’s decision to pour $8.5 million into the building – completely renovating the atrium in the process – seems surprising. Although the less frequented parts of the building, with chipped floor tiles and missing ceiling tiles in places, are in need of the few improvements they will receive during the renovation, it appears this project’s focus will be mainly on painting a shiny new face on the University.
The centerpiece of the renovation will be a new auditorium, dubbed the maize-and-blue room, where slick multimedia presentations will woo hesitant prospective students. Ironically, the auditorium will replace the old student woodshop – itself the victim of budget cuts in 2003.
Two-thirds of the renovations’ costs will come out of the $200 million of capital outlay funds the state set aside for Michigan’s 15 public universities. As a sweetener to make yet another year of cuts in state appropriations more palatable, this outlay is one of the few positive things that have come the University’s way from the state in recent years. This $8.5-million renovation – on a building last remodeled in 1996 – would be perfect fodder for any state legislator looking to prove that the state’s public universities are inefficient, overfunded and clearly not suffering despite years of state budget cuts.
The senior associate director of admissions, Chris Lucier, said in a press release that “for many prospective students, a visit to the SAB forms an impression of the University of Michigan which will influence their decisions of whether or not to apply to U-M.” The SAB’s appearance will affect students and parents, and there is merit to ensuring the atrium remains attractive and modern. But the appearance, both inside and out, of residence halls and academic buildings will also leave an impression. Holding the SAB building to a standard so high that it requires a multi-million dollar renovation every 10 years just to stay up to date ultimately shortchanges more needed building projects.
A student’s choice to apply to or attend the University should ultimately hinge on how the institution’s character, traditions and academic offerings fit with what the student is seeking. The decision should not hinge on the snazziness of a multimedia presentation or the newness of the visitor’s center where the student waits for his tour guide.