Lewis & Clark’s campus is undeniably beautiful, frequently ranking highly on national lists of attractive campuses. The aesthetic of the school is a major factor in many students’ decisions to attend, and it certainly was in my own. The romantic image of oneself as a future student, walking to class on cobblestone paths past gigantic evergreens and a magnificent old mansion is certainly a strong draw. However, when one becomes a student and this alluring image is suddenly a norm of everyday life, the more unappealing aspects of the experience become evident. LC’s beauty is even less gratifying when it becomes the backdrop to budget cuts continually affecting student activities and pursuits.
One may wonder where exactly the school’s priorities lie when the administration appears to emphasize the improvement of institutional image while the reality of the student experience suffers. A degree of aesthetic upkeep is understandable, given that the Frank Manor House and gardens are designated historic places and idyllic symbols of LC. But these areas are already effective means of captivating new and current students; thus, much of LC’s image-focused spending on showy new landscaping and expensive ceremonies seems rather wasteful.
The installation of the new bridge serves as an excellent example of this problem. While this bridge is certainly a valuable addition for current students, the importance of landscaping added around it, featuring a boulder-enclosed sitting area complete with a stone water feature, is less clear. In fact it seems downright superfluous. Even more excessive was the “inaugural” bridge ribbon cutting ceremony, featuring cookies individually depicting images of the bridge. The extravagance of this event is rather questionable, given that the bridge’s construction was delayed for many months, and that students had already been walking across it for a several days prior.
Despite these delays, the school took little time in starting to show off the new bridge and its ornamental surroundings. The college promptly restarted the old tour route showcasing the bridge and ravine, made even more picturesque by the renovations. The reasoning behind this is clear of course: the more students that are attracted by the school, the more funding that is received in turn. But this motive seems self-defeating when emphasis is disproportionately placed on showing off LC’s attractive attributes while the experience of current students suffers.
This problem is further highlighted by the directions given to tour guides, instructing them to bring prospective students into Stewart Hall due to its large rooms and walk-in closets, but not the Stewart lounge, because its appearance is less than ideal. Once again, prospective students get a glimpse of LC only at its best.
Given that the school is currently suffering from a significant budget crisis, its efforts to attract new students are certainly understandable. However, it seems unwise for the school to be devoting its scarce funding to new fountains and high-profile ceremonies, especially events like President Wim Wiewel’s excessively grandiose inauguration last semester, featuring numerous musicians, meal and bar catering afterward.
While LC allocates funding to such things, student interests appear to be falling by the wayside. In speaking with ASLC senator Ben Seiple ’21 about these issues, he provided a list of affected resources.
“Academic departments across the board are being cut, student fee money is being cut, and so as a result, student club budgets are being cut,” Seiple said. He also mentioned issues like funding for student overseas programs being suddenly cut, despite their popularity among those currently enrolled and status as a major draw for prospective students. There will also be possible future increases in student music lesson costs.
Though some of these issues, like student fee cuts, are a result of this year’s “Classzilla” graduating, they appear to also highlight a degree of budgetary mismanagement overall. Seiple stated his opinion on why these issues may arise.
“I think a big part is that we don’t really have our priorities straight as far as funding goes,” Seiple said. “And it’s that we spend a lot of money on getting new students to come here … and then we forget the academic departments … Yeah, this is a social space, but it’s also a school.”
While the school is in somewhat of a transitory period in regards to its budgetary struggles, it seems that LC is overly focused on its appearance, possibly to the detriment of current students. LC needs to attract more students, but perhaps there are less wasteful ways of doing so.
Written by Austin Schmidberger.