In today’s New York Times, Rebirth of a City talks about how the city of Syracuse, NY is rehabbing itself across the board. Of particular interest is this paragraph (emphases mine):
Syracuse has been particularly attractive to people like Mr. Destito thanks to a forward-thinking coalition that includes Mayor Stephanie Miner; Nancy Cantor, the chancellor and president of Syracuse University; Joanie Mahoney, the executive of Onondaga County; and a mix of neighborhood groups and business associations. The university has bought empty industrial buildings and renovated them, using some of the space for programs and renting out the rest. The city has created neighborhood improvement projects, while the county has chipped in money to reinvest in downtown.
Note that the university is described here as a full partner in the fate of the municipality, not a bystander watching from a distance. To remain competitive, Syracuse U. apparently thinks it’s important to address the whole of its environment, not just what’s on campus property. If the city of Syracuse is down in the mouth, maybe it’s affecting recruitment, of both students and faculty.
Because students and faculty don’t just go to class and go home…and campuses are usually lousy at making Third Places. People who use campuses (a) mostly don’t live there, and (b) have lives. No campus is an island, entire of itself. Many colleges, however, have yet to fill in the figurative moats they dug trying to isolate themselves physically from the world.
Residential four-year college campuses are inherently municipal places. They’re dysfunctional, starter cities for freshmen, run by politburos, but municipal nevertheless. They isolate themselves, Vatican-like, within their host municipalities (the ones accountable to electorates), when they should be thinking about their hosts as logical extensions of their missions, which theoretically includes educating the whole person. SU is one school waking up to the idea that maybe there doesn’t have to be such a bright line between town and gown.
In other words: Your campus is a city. And the whole city is your campus.