This semester, Boston University has had a much different look. Along the Charles River campus, mounds of gravel have been replaced by trees, and traffic cones have been replaced by freshly poured sidewalks and pavement. The Commonwealth Avenue Improvement Project was completed just before the university declared a construction freeze in light of the recent economic troubles facing the world. In spite of this, some construction projects that were already in the works will be pushed forward in accordance with President Robert Brown’s Strategic Plan. Because the nation is facing such tight economic times, the university must exercise discretion when utilizing its available resources.
In the fall, the construction of the Student Village Phase II project will be completed. With its opening, the only major construction project remaining on BU’s campus will be the renovations to the College of Fine Arts, which is a key part of the Strategic Plan. Beyond that, the university will be considering a number of future projects, including renovations to several schools’ facilities, larger dormitories and the revitalization of the western end of Commonwealth Avenue.
But these projects, while appealing to the BU community in the immediate future, are expensive undertakings that may prove to be less-than-timely if rushed. Even after the self-imposed construction freeze is lifted, the university should analyze the financial climate carefully before embarking on more improvement projects. In the cases of college facility renovations, there is little urgency to begin construction. What is more pressing for the university and its students is the strengthening of the individual academic programs ‘-‘- attracting talented faculty members and encouraging high levels of scholarship. Expensive investments do not make a successful college.
Take Arizona State University, which invested $71 million in building the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Though the Cronkite School is physically fresh and technologically advanced, BU’s College of Communication’s program has had 59′ years to recruit top-notch faculty and build a strong alumni base, which are things that no amount of money can achieve in such a short time. Superficial aspects, like the physical appearance of a building, matter little for the purposes of building a top-tier academic program.
Until the economic crisis corrects itself, the university should treat all proposed renovation and construction projects as low priorities. If next year’s tuition costs rise, and if ground is broken on any new projects, there is something seriously amiss with the administration’s priorities.