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The Sentinel

An Eye on the Penn State Administration

The Chronicle: ‘Can Small Be Beautiful?’

Stan Katz wrote a very worthwhile post over at The Chronicle of Higher Education’s blog. He highlights the unstopping campus construction at nearly every major university and essentially asks, “to what end?” He also questions whether one of the fundamental goals of a real University — to form and train the minds of the youth — is being lost amidst a scramble to get ever larger research contracts.

Can Small Be Beautiful? (The Chronicle) — Is “growing like Topsy” necessarily good for universities? Is it in any case inevitable? That is certainly the feeling I get when I travel from campus to campus. Each one seems more like a series of construction sites than a settled community, and there seems to be no end in sight to physical expansion.

I know that I sound like a broken record when I observe that the investment choices in expanding the built environment generally favor the sciences, technology, and athletics, and seldom do much to enhance the capacity of the humanities and social sciences. They also favor research over teaching. But I don’t think the point can be made too often.

I also wonder whether the educational functions of the university, especially the needs of undergraduate education, are not taking a back seat to what is considered to be “useful” science and technological research? Are we spending scarce resources on research that we ought to be spending on promoting student learning? Are we sending the wrong sorts of signals to undergraduate students? Are we maintaining the sort of proximity that is most conducive to community interaction?

Whatever happened to the notion that, in higher education, small might be beautiful?

Now, we’re way past the chance of keeping things geographically small at Penn State, but I think there is some worth in asking ourselves how we might go about making our campuses — University Park especially — fall more in line with the motto of our nation, e pluribus unum, “out of many, one.”

In other words, how can we mold our campus into one that accepts our many different academic colleges and the various racial divides and shape our many small communities into one larger, more cohesive whole.

We are tasked with the great opportunity to reimagine students as living and learning together rather than only in our own ethnic groups or special interests. If we truly are all one Penn State, then it’s time for the administration and the campus developers to prove it by making our campus both more beautiful and timeless architecturally and more functional and inclusive to the average student and visitor.

On the other side of College Avenue, we see that we still live in a relatively small town. Immerse yourself in its activities and events and you’ll find that you come to know many of the folks who live, work and run our community in State College.

If we can learn how to take the many, small parts of Penn State from across the Commonwealth that make up the whole, and form a common identity in the 21st century, we’ll have done something truly remarkable.

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