New buildings won’t fix old dorms

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November 13, 2009

1:12 AM

As the debate continues over the level of access non-business majors are allowed to Alan B. Miller Hall, it is worth scrutinizing the College of William and Mary’s priorities in deciding to construct the $75 million building in the first place. With plans afoot for a $355 million performance and fine arts complex, and the ongoing construction of the Sherman and Gloria H. Cohen Career Center — a steal at $7.8 million — the College’s love for ambitious new infrastructure projects appears unrestrained. In the midst of a funding crisis, and considering the poor state of some existing buildings, students must question why the school is pursuing such schemes at the expense of the day-to-day comfort of its students and faculty.

Miller certainly offers a state-of-the-art learning environment to all students — at least before 10 p.m. — and the new career center should provide students with better preparation for life beyond campus than that which the college currently offers them. Indeed, during a time when funding from Richmond is drying up, the state remains more willing to help with new construction than it does in other areas — as College President Taylor Reveley has acknowledged — so why not milk the cow while it is still there to be milked?

Even where Virginia does provide money for the general upkeep of campus, the school gets its priorities wrong. The word from the College suggests that St. George Tucker Hall, William and Mary Hall and Small Hall will benefit most from any new renovations. While I submit that all three need a lick-of-paint, it is through the quality of student accommodation that the school is badly letting down its most important members.

Living in Chandler Hall I at least had expected a hot shower, reliable internet access and a basic level of cleanliness, none of which I found upon my arrival. I know it is far from the horrors of the Botetourt Complex or the Fraternity Complex, but for nearly $2,500 a semester, I was hoping for better. Furthermore, far from it being a fundamental aspect of the college experience, room-sharing is largely just another way for schools across the country to save money. The College’s failure to provide more single rooms condemns many students to a lack of privacy, lost sleep and nightmarish roommates.

I acknowledge that funding for big projects is complex a comes funded largely from private sources; that funding is not as simple as channeling money straight from private donors into campus maintenance, and that those alumni who give donations like to see the tangible results of their pledges in the form of shiny new buildings. I also acknowledge that the Jamestown dorms are a serious recent investment in student accommodation on the part of the College, even if they are only available to a small proportion of us at greater expense than the older dorms.

I also submit that my selfish student perspective neglects other areas of required investment such as parking, staff pay and departmental budgets in general. However, I find it hard to see how the school can contemplate spending the gross national product of a small country on a vast new facility when the basic standard of accommodation for students is simply not up to snuff.

Ultimately, new facilities like Miller are a boon to any school, since they offer innovative new surroundings and a focus for school pride. However, as palatial as they may appear on the college website, it is the lived-in experience of the College that is paramount for the college community, and the school should be wary of letting its ambition get in the way of its humanity.

E-mail Tim MacFarlan at [email protected]

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