If you feeling like campus is very different from when you left last spring, you’re not alone. With two major entrances to the Diag torn apart, a mammoth steel skeleton standing where the new Ross School of Business building will be, the Frieze Building demolished, Michigan Stadium renovations scheduled for next year and a whole host of other construction projects going on, it seems like all of campus is in a state of flux. These latest changes to the face of campus raise important questions about the right and wrong way to approach improvement.
Using the awesome power of hypotenuses, the Diag is the University’s expressway of foot travel. It’s tough to get around quickly without it, and more importantly, it’s simple enough that it allows students to learn their way around pretty quickly. It makes little sense to block half of the entrances to the Diag, especially at the beginning of the term.
Some projects, like the addition to the art museum, have obvious benefits. The same doesn’t hold true for the bottomless pit that was dug up in front of the Shapiro Undergraduate Library. Few people know how to get around that mess efficiently enough to still get to class on time. When a project is causes this sort of much everyday inconvenience, we should at least be know what the reason for the inconvenience is.
The Diag maze is just the beginning. Alum Stephen Ross’s $100-million donation in 2004 led to the demolition of Davidson Hall, a building comparatively younger and in better shape than many other University buildings, to make for an even newer building. Meanwhile, right next-door, Lorch Hall, a building that can leave you with dandruff from drywall and chipped paint, continues to fall apart. But money talks, and Ross got his way.
The business school’s new building is a great example of a myopic construction philosophy that fails to allocate resources in the way that is best for the University as a whole.
Instead of at least minimally improving the existing dorms, which have gone decades without improvement, the University opted to build a new one – North Quad. A few lucky students will get a brand new facility while the rest are crammed into decrepit places like Mary Markley, where you can have a bat as your third roommate.
As much as the University sells itself as an egalitarian institution, nothing could look more elitist. Many of these projects look like wasteful spending and could doom the University’s lobbying efforts in Lansing. While the state deals with a financial nightmare, the $226 million the University is spending on the Big House looks pretty unnecessary. It looks even worse when you consider that the entire athletic department at Appalachian State only has a budget of $9.5 million.
Private donors like Ross have every right to stipulate how they want their donations used. However, if the demands of some donors are not in line with the best interests of the University as a whole, perhaps it’s time that the University restructured its donation policy to retain more authority in deciding how best to use the money.
Most alumni would surely wish their alma mater to benefit in the best way possible from their donations and should understand such a change. Perhaps some alumni would turn away, but the marginal benefit for the University at large from donations going where they are most needed dictates that the University must rethink its policies and start doing what is best for all of campus, not just the few.