Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The golden outhouse

I have a distinctly postmodern view of the world. I don't really believe we interact with the environment around us as it exists; we interact with the environment around us as we perceive it to exist.

It only makes sense, then, that perception is everything -- or maybe the only thing. It truly governs our behavior.

Consider, for example, how much time we spend projecting our own desired personae. The cars we drive say something about us beyond the fact that we go from A to B. Our clothing communicates different messages beyond the fact that we don't like being naked. Basic hygiene aids in courtship as much as it prevents disease.

So are institutions any different from individuals? Probably not considering that institutions are comprised of individuals.

What you see above is the newly renovated Freedom Park, between Second and Third Streets on the University of Louisville campus. This is one part of several beautification projects the university has undertaken over the past year, the total cost of which is about $7 million.

U of L argues that these projects are "designed to improve student safety and provide more convenient access onto and around campus." That, of course, is untrue. A brick sidewalk is so safer to cross than one made of asphalt, and I never found the campus difficult to access -- at least by foot.

In reality, I believe the university was trying to impress the Phi Beta Kappa Society, whose members -- coincidentally -- appeared on campus this spring for a site visit. If you want the prestige that comes with a PBK chapter, you have to look like you warrant it. The perception becomes important.

But the perception doesn't become the reality.

Looking as though you deserve prestige is not the same as actually deserving it. I don't think the University of Louisville is a bad educational institution. Quite the opposite actually. Still, we could be doing more.

My perception of these beautification projects is that we are wasting money. Imagine what else we could do with $7 million beyond some aesthetic face lift. We could invest in research, technology, extracurriculars, career training, travel, TEACHING or any number of other things that add true value to the institution.

Is upkeep of the campus important? Yes. But is it $7 million important? For four small projects? Probably not.

I could take a dump in an outhouse made of wood or one made of gold. No matter how nice the gold one looks, it's still full of shit.

I'd rather focus on the educational core and build real value at the university, allowing the exterior to merely reflect the learning housed within. Instead, I worry that we're becoming just another golden outhouse, and that stinks.

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