“Soul of the University” — Sold Out?

Harvard has the Weidner, Princeton the Firestone. The University of Virginia has a network of libraries, all beautifully preserved. Chicago’s Harper Library is as elegant as its holdings are extensive. And the University of Washington regards its stunning Suzzallo library as “the soul of the university.” If you were to choose a single building to reflect and embody the spirit and purpose of any university, it would be hard to overlook the central library. Not only does it house and preserve the scholarship universities are built around, it is also a campus hub, meeting place, and temple of learning, where countless students spend countless hours acquiring skills and knowledge. Given all of this, the term “soul of the university” seems an appropriate description of the role libraries play in campus life.

Given this, however, the conclusion that would jump out for anyone touring the Alexander Library on College Ave is that Rutgers has sold its soul. Either that or it doesn’t care enough to even try to keep its largest library in respectable condition. In an age where state-of-the-art football facilities have become Rutgers’ highest priority, its library resembles a detention center more than it does a house of learning. Chalk up another victory for President Dick McCormick’s guiding vision for Rutgers: “Football Uber Alles”.

Let’s take a bit of a virtual tour, backed up by photographs supplied by students who are heartily sick of trying to work in a building that isn’t even properly climate controlled. From the entrance, grey, threadbare carpet leads past dilapidated desks covered in graffiti scrawling, some of it dating back well over ten years.

If you find a seat at a desk, best not be easily offended, as many are covered with pornographic obscenities which have survived for years. If you’re a woman, try especially hard now to think of how much more important a winning football program is to Rutgers than your basic dignity. Try to just forget how no expense was spared for the Hale Football Center’s upgrade: granite columns, huge private weight rooms, and so forth. And don’t imagine how many new desks Rutgers could buy with Greg Schiano’s salary. Just remember that you enrolled at a state university, so you should have known to expect rape scenes on library desks and vast expenditure on the football program. Just cover the image of a girl having sex with two men with your textbook and try to get to work.

It’s when we venture upstairs, however, that the prison-library feel of Alexander becomes especially evident. Concrete blocks line the wall, cheap linoleum covers the floor (with tiles missing, of course), and cracks in the masonry are given the most rudimentary of touch-ups. Alexander hasn’t had any serious maintenance done on it in years, and it shows. Meanwhile, across the river, construction has begun on the farcical $100+ million gamble that is the stadium expansion. A starker illustration of the way big-time football compromises the basic academic integrity of Rutgers University could hardly be imagined. We now have a gold-plated football program and a crumbling library. If the library is indeed the soul of a university, then Rutgers is in trouble indeed.

Let us remember that Alexander is what Rutgers provides for its “best and brightest”, for the students who come to this, America’s 8th-oldest institution of higher learning, for an education and not for drunken antics at football matches. While spending on football has boomed, our main library has come to resemble a ghetto, and the priorities of the McCormick administration are revealed for all to see. The neglect of our main library is yet another tragedy of the ascent of booster culture at Rutgers and another indictment of the compromised and cowardly tenure of Rutgers President Dick McCormick.

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One Response to “Soul of the University” — Sold Out?

  1. Tom Servo says:

    The maintenance problem has more to do with the state’s drastic funding cuts to the university than the athletics budget. It would be more productive to lobby Trenton to restore the cut funds than to lobby McCormick for more money. You can argue both ways on the merits of college football, but at the end of the day the athletic department’s cost to the university is insignificant compared to the funding cuts by our naive, short-sighted state legislature.

    Another thing you should do is use this group to organize volunteers to paint those desks in Alexander. You’d be doing a lot of good while earning credibility by doing community service. And you would make a tangible positive impact on the university.

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