This June, it’ll be a mere 54 years since the Florida Board of Regents approved the creation of a new state university in Orlando following appeals from community residents and leaders.
Youth comes with its own list of pros and cons. Weighing heavy on the pro side is a clean past that lacks the murky footnotes hovering over many colleges’ histories.
I can’t imagine the double-consciousness of being a student of color at the University of Florida, where the bronze statues serve as constant reminders of a pre-1958 Whites-only past. Similarly, studying at any of the number of universities who fought co-education must be a rough pill to swallow for many young women, who have earned more degrees than men every year since 1982.
UCF was integrated and coeducational from the start, a fact that is evident in its mission today. Diversity is a core tenant in the Creed, and in 2014, Diverse ranked us 8th in awarding degrees to both black and Hispanic students.
That, alone, is reason enough to be proud of “Knighthood.”
One downside to our relative adolescence is our sometimes-uninspiring campus infrastructure. The tilt towards glass panels, sheet rock and modern architecture remains very telling of our youth, and of the profit-maximizing preference of the people who make those decisions.
Recent undertakings, from the planned “21st Century Library” expansion to the completed CFE Arena renovation, point to an aesthetic more commercial than academic.
As if branding the arena with a logo that shines aggressively through the night wasn’t punishment enough, someone thought it was a good idea to make the center of Knight’s Plaza look like an abandoned shopping mall.
Desolate except for the occasional event, and decorated with rows of manicured palm trees and an embarrassing layer of AstroTurf that adds insult to injury, last year’s arena renovation was a way to update an area that needed “a little modernizing,” according to UCF spokesman Mark Schlueb.
The library is headed in the same direction. While some proposed changes are more than welcome (i.e. safer elevators, Union-side entrance, ample study spaces), digital renderings of the planned exterior scream “for-profit college.” Housing the automatic retrieval system of our dreams will be an angular glass entrance lined with, you guessed it, manicured palm trees.
Since its inception as a space-program training ground, UCF has been a college that looks towards the future. And yes, part of that future is newer infrastructure that meets the needs of a growing student population.
A more important part of that future, one might argue, is a student body that respects its campus and sees its infrastructure as an extension of the academic mission to think critically and put knowledge before commercialization.
I’m more inspired by the all-brick layout of FSU, which emphasizes a self-serving campus, than I am by the efforts of our administration to see how many customers we can cram into Knight’s Plaza businesses.
Efforts of branding and modernity distract students from the goal of a central campus: a hub that emphasizes scholarship and downplays flashiness. Instead, we seem to be lost in a competition with Full Sail over how shiny our buildings are.
The most egregious violation of this is bound to be the upcoming Student Union-Aramark expansion. The food service behemoth is expected to pour $14 million into renovating the Union following a deal approved by the Board of Trustees in 2015.
Granting such a sensitive task to a food corporation known for its relentlessness is a big gamble when it comes to the identity of the Union, often dubbed “the heart of campus.” Say goodbye to alumni-owned businesses and hello to the inevitable Aramark logos that will decorate some sort of food court glass dividers that are sure to come.
We’re a good university. We boast a myriad degree programs, committed professors, and a diverse student body looking to better the world. Let’s not get lost in profit or frivolous ornamentation.
The only branding we should be focusing on is our own.