Colleges' emphasis on high-profile architecture undermines education

Recently, the New York Times ran an article outlining the University of Cincinnati’s continuing expansion of its campus and the great financial gamble it entails. A new two-block retail, entertainment and housing complex akin to Storrs’ ritzy Oaks on the Square has just emerged, supplied with amenities such as a craft-beer emporium and yoga studio. 

This is but another development in an ongoing effort to accent the University’s stature. In 1989, Cincinnati began its own Master Plan to radically transform an aesthetically bleak campus by enlisting prominent architects to design the buildings. As such, the Vontz Center for Molecular Studies was designed by Frank Gehry – creator of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain – the conservatory of music by Henry Cobb, and the list goes on with each renovation. 

Extraneous as it may seem, students truly value the appearance of the campuses they attend. A study by Noel-Levitz, a strategic enrollment management firm, reported that 60.4 percent and 58.3 percent of surveyed students cited personal appearance and campus size alike as important for private and public universities, respectively. Attending schools with interesting-looking buildings and the touch of a famous architect stimulates a sense of pride among some students. 

Moreover, and arguably most importantly, attractive buildings potentially entice superficial students willing to put money down, and consequently, the school has seen its number of out-of-state students increase by 8.3 percent from last year. The influx of students then supplements the expansion, and the cycle continues. 

One mustn’t forget the real reason he or she goes to school, though. The university still ranks at No. 140 on the U.S. News & World Report of Education, and building development is not going to be the sole basis for its ascent.

The greatest emphasis should be on teachers, and colleges have been skimping. As of 2013, less than 25 percent of college professors are tenured. In Ohio, the track to tenure takes seven years, and if the professor’s work is not deemed sufficient after that probationary period, they are dismissed.

Colleges instead primarily rely on adjunct faculty because they can pay them less than tenured teachers – the median pay for an adjunct teaching one course at a public university is only $3,200 – and arbitrarily remove them without due process, a right only tenure grants. This often leads to a dilution of curriculum because professors cannot teach what they want out of fear of not being rehired.

Instead, the money that could go to developing professors and curriculum is utilized for amusing buildings and attractions, while the cost of attending college still rises at exponential rates. Administrators ought to realize that the money involved in accouterments seeking to attract students will eventually be what repels them and stifles their education.