Groundbreaking for the new student services building took place yesterday, as the Southern reported. The aim is to put an end to the Woody Shuffle. Woody Hall is not an ideal structure for its current function (it was, I believe, originally a dormitory) and this building will no doubt be more functional and more attractive.
But anyone not brand new to this blog will know that I've become reflexively critical of new infrastructure on campus. As trustee Don Lowery rather sharply pointed out in his WSIU interview some time ago, SIUC has the infrastructure to support c. 18,000 undergraduates, though only 15,000 are on campus. So our priority is infrastructure? Paid for by student fees? As if the Woody Shuffle was due to the architectural shortcomings of Woody Hall, not to poorly functioning bureaucracy; as if that bureaucracy will automatically improve just because we've put it in a new building. We've lost hundreds (sic) of civil service positions over the last few years; would you rather go to bad old Woody with enough staff or the brand spanking new building with far too few staffers? Thanks to the state's messing with pensions, and to low campus morale, the university will face something of a mass exodus of employees in all classifications in the near future. We will soon be coming up against our contractually mandated student-Faculty ratio of 26:1 (which the administration tried to raise both during and after negotiations). The answer? New construction!
Glen Poshard emphasized construction on campus in his press conference defense of his tenure at SIU. It would be one thing had Poshard landed us new buildings paid for largely by outside money. This is the case with some new construction on campus--I believe it is the case with the new transportation facility out at the airport. But when construction is paid for out of student fees (the majority funding for Saluki Way, and the entire funding for this project), construction isn't necessarily a good thing: this is our students' money, money that could have paid for something else, or left in their pockets. But you don't get to break out the golden shovels to celebrate, say, good relations with unions; a healthy student-faculty ratio despite a difficult budgetary climate; or inspirational leadership that unifies the campus (or even the BOT) rather than dividing it. Poshard is a politician, and building projects are a staple of politicians' playbooks, creating jobs to be filled by friendly local firms, and giving you something to point to when re-election time comes around--or when people question your leadership. When the construction comes from earmarked money landed from Washington, it is hard to knock it (from a self-interested, local point of view). When it is paid for by our students it should be a harder sell.
The signs surrounding the building site feature Littman-Hearne advertising images of students and faculty engaged in research, creative activity, and the like. Not one of those signs depicts anything that will ever happen inside the building under construction. None of this $32.5 million will go toward improved classrooms, laboratories, or spaces for creative work--to mention only infrastructure projects more directly tied to our mission. It looks like our ad firm has a better understanding of our academic mission than our administration does.