June 10, 2006

Nostalgia ain't what it used to be

Yesterday I went up to my college campus, invited for an annual luncheon. What I really went to see is what has happened to my once-beautiful Seven Sisters campus 75 miles up the Hudson River, since I am co-chairing my class's 25th reunion next June.

I discovered that I have an architectural aesthetic, to be grandiose, properly described as predating women's suffrage. The post-WW II period has not been kind to the campus. Most of the new buildings have all the charm of my 1960s baby-boom-built elementary school, and that wasn't exactly a heyday for institutional architecture.

If the reunion fundraising committee is trying to evoke nostalgia of place, I think they are too late. There's no landmarks commission up the Hudson, and the college is knocking down my past faster than I can drive a car into a tree. (My driving skills are renowned for what they lack.)

The "renovation" that made me weep was that the former riding academy turned English department building (where I spent more time in teacher's offices than in classrooms) has been torn down. The front facade was saved -- but it is the only brick and mortar evidence I have of the building where my professor fed me Valium in the teacher's lounge, where there was evidence I was connected to the campus as a student.

That same professor made me a reading list on a cocktail napkin in the inn connected to the campus, where she drank grasshoppers for lunch and we discussed my sex life, all under the guise of independent study.

Behind the 19th-century facade is a new "Center for Film and Drama." To me, it looked like a multiplex in a shopping mall; some of the students say it reminds them of Costco/Sam's Club. I don't think I'd let the brand-name architect responsible for that monstrosity design closet space for me.

The interior of an early 20th-century dorm -- once the highest (at 9 stories) building in Dutchess County -- has been completely gutted. The wood floor and carpeting has been replaced by the ever-endurable stone, and the furnishings consist of those usually found in an upscale airport waiting lounge. The building exudes all the charm and comfort associated with your average modern airport. Previously, it may not have been in great shape, but at least you could sit on the sofas without sliding off or sticking to fake-leather upholstery.

So much for historic preservation. I was shocked to read the outgoing college president is, by training, an architectural historian. Good thing she went into administration, because her imprimatur on the campus has me questioning her academic credentials.

Granted, I didn't put up the money for any of this, and the fund-raising president doubled the college's endowment, as well as putting up these post-modern horrors, but I'm rethinking my future gifts to the college, if that's how they spend the money.

I'm no architect, but I know what looks like crap when I see it. The renovation of the reference room in the library is also completely out of context with the building's architecture, and I wasn't fooled by the mud in front of one dorm that is spray-painted green in lieu of having actual grass in its place.

(The library bathrooms, however, haven't been touched. The ladies' room sinks still have separate faucets for hot and cold water.)

The most (and only) attractive renovation I saw was of the room where my luncheon was held -- they preserved and recreated its pastel wedding-cake ceiling.

For this, parents pay $40,000 a year? An English major without a calculator can't do math to save her life, but I managed the nuances of mine:

Tuition in 1980 was $4,500; in 2005, it was $33,000. On an annual basis, that's an increase of 8.3%. That is, 7.3 times the number of dollar amount in 1980 is the cost of entry in 2005. Manhattan apartments, by comparison, have increased 6.65% annually, or 5 times the number of dollars (or more, depending on the building and the apartment size) in the same time frame. The inflation figure has held steady at 3% to 4%.

My salary at my first job in publishing was $11,500; current starting salaries are about $29,000. $29,000 today goes about as far as $11,500 did in 1982 -- and that's to say, not very. It has barely kept up with inflation.

Then I looked on line at the English department offerings and noticed how many of the professors are "adjunct," meaning there's not a chance in hell they are tenure track, and that the department doesn't have to pay them nearly as well, nor offer them the same benefits and opportunities as assistant professors got in our day.

It also doesn't bode well for the students, to know how many of their professors are so itinerant and have such term-limited gigs. It certainly wouldn't persuade me that I could have a future in academia, if I'd ever wanted one.

I can't imagine where all the money went -- for the computers that you can stub your toe on everywhere you turn? the flowers in front of the main building? the little tags on every tree that identify them by species? (The great outdoors and I do not have a lot in common. I know evergreens from deciduous trees, and grass from concrete, but don't ask me to get horticultural.)

I guess you can see why I'm on the reunion committee not the fundraising one...

Labels: ,


Blogger The Misanthrope said...

I wonder what kind of salary the president was/is making. My guess is close to a million, so I would suspect a good chunk of change is going there and to benefits.

8:40 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home