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High-Class Dormitories

September 18, 2006

One word describes my feelings about a CNN story last week called “Posh dorms, amenities becoming the norm at college”: mixed.

The story began by outlining a “dorm” called “Loft-Right” on Chicago’s DePaul campus. From the story: “The mod-looking structure has all the amenities: expansive city views, granite countertops in the kitchen and bathrooms, modern designer furniture and satellite TV hookups. The lobby lounge — like something out of a hip hotel — has a pool table and fireplace, and soon will have a Starbucks and tanning and hair salons next door.” One Robert Bronstein, of the Scion Group, said the posh dorm “dovetails with their vision of what it is to be a grown-up.” The Scion Group appears to be a part of a growing trend on campuses: universities hire private companies to build and manage the dorms on institution-owned land. The article goes on to outline various dorm maid services, up-scale moving companies, etc. Bronstein is “ready to move on to his next project: a ‘Club Med for students’ at Illinois State University that will have outdoor volleyball and hot tubs, as well as plasma TVs in every unit.”

It is clear that many schools are seeing these upgrades as inevitable and necessary. Students are consumers, and the consumer must be kept happy.

On the one hand, this only mirrors a practice engaged in at far older institutions, such as Oxford, where students and faculty had personal assistants. But history also reveals that universities began as semi-religious institutions, where learning was respected but set in the context of monasteries. In that older, Spartan context, learners practiced self-restraint and trained the body for discipline along with the mind.

Which is better? The posh environ can reduce the comfort distractions that keep the mind from books (the need for necessities). But, on the other hand, these new up-scale dorms seem to add distractions. Having closer exercise facilities makes sense, but sattelite TVs? Coffee and fireplace seem fine, but hot tubs, plasma TVs, and tanning and hair salons? A ‘Club Med’ for students? Perhaps these developers are trying to help students lower travel costs for spring break?!

In sum, these new trends seem more deplorable than deserving of applause. Of course this could just be the story’s presentation, but some facts seem to speak for themselves. – TL

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