The politics of space
Why did the
chicken cross the road? To get to the other side of the university.
Through the growth of welfare states the role of universities
has broadened. As a public institution, the interests that the
university is required to serve are diverse. The notion of a
higher education can hardly be called exclusive anymore, (relatively
speaking). But when diversity is territorialized, the integrity
of the university is threatened.
Look at it this way: in its most general form the university
may be said to embrace two perspectives, namely the practical
and the theoretical. No curriculum should include only one of
these ideas, but in the real world it is a difficult task to
give an equal weight to both.
As well, the university has evolved to include expansions into
professional fields, i.e., medicine, business, engineering. It
is the nature of these knowledges that they should be applied
directly to meeting the practical needs of society. In contrast,
the more traditional areas of study, those faculties listed under
the umbrella of arts and science, conventionally focus on more
theoretical matters. Because each of these approaches to learning
presupposes a certain level and specialization of education it
is often difficult for one to appreciate the other perspective.
The diversity of interests can become polarized when particular
departments face the realities of fiscal restraint and are forced
to make choices in favour of the style of education that can
be most successfully delivered. Its true, not everyone
wants to be an academic. Theres more to the world than
the critical analysis of it. A majority of students look to the
university to provide a skill, an ability which they may translate
into opportunities world-wide. But these desires turn dangerous
when one discipline assumes to teach both practical and theoretical
elements. It is my contention that in these cases the distinction
between practice and theory is blurred. The decision to favour
one over the other becomes a complicated moral issue.
In this scenario, the student body wills the ultimate decision,
for how can one dictate value for another person? Since students
vote with their feet, academic theory, being only one of many
interests, is displaced. The outcome of these decisions implicitly
express value-judgements on behalf of the departments and is
reflected in the attitudes of students. Unfortunately, the reasons
behind curriculum choices are not readily communicated, and what
was a process of compromise, merely a means to an end, is understood
by the general population as an end in itself. When fiscal realities
and the like force a competition for funds, the diversity of
perspective becomes a bone of contention that can border on alienation
and hostility. This often boils down to a division between the
academics and the rest of us.
Here at MUN this us against them mentality is echoed
even in the physical development of the campus. Some professional
schools of were added after the original buildings had been erected.
The only area left that could be developed was the land on the
other side of Prince Philip Drive. So on one side of campus you
have a population unified through their commitment to theoretical
analysis. The other side meanwhile, physically divided from the
central campus by the Parkway, maintains a distinct idea of purpose
focussed contrarily on the practice and refinement of particular
theories. These differences in ideology politicize areas of common
congestion as each faction tries to extend its influence over
the whole of the university.
The TSC which was the centre of the university life, had a central
location in the middle of campus, the meeting place of the disciplines.
It was like a town square where people were invited to loiter,
and commune. But times have changed and on the cusp of the new
millennium the students centre has been relocated to reflect
the growth and diversity of the population of MUN. Nowhere is
the debate between university ideologies more physically apparent
than in the very building of the new students centre. The
new student centre is supposed to be a bridge literally connecting
the old and the new sections of campus, yet figuratively polarizing
the academics and the professionals. Like a giant bandage it
serves to mend a gap by providing a place for both perspectives.
But it fails at this task because it seems to have been built
to carry traffic, not to bolster a community. A community needs
a place where it can stop and rest, to take note of its diversity,
to enjoy itself at leisure.
The Smallwood Centre does not address this issue. It was built
with movement in mind. As the only point of access between the
sides of campus, the expected turnover rate is much greater than
the load that the TSC was ever expected to serve. It is not therefore
a meeting place, but a place of business. In appearance it is
a long hall rather than a square. From the moment you enter you
are ushered from one concession to the next until you reach the
other side fed, informed, drunk and ready to catch the bus home.
The Smallwood Centre erodes the traditional idea of community
simply because it does not recognize the differences inherent
in the disciplines. Instead it would lump all students into a
single mass whose needs may all be fulfilled through efficient
design. Alienation follows.