Ah, the second week of January, the time when school starts up again for us future members of the Creative Class, we who are destined to make roughly 40 percent more than our degree-less counterparts.
Good ol' college, the stamp on your passport to adulthood. Time for us to put our noses to the grindstone, stick 'em in those $150 text books, and try not to think about the fact that we'll probably never use the stuff we're learning.
And that we'll be earning less for every year it takes us to learn it as entry level salaries for college grads continue to drop. (Unless you're in engineering, in which case neither of those are true and in five years you can laugh at the starving liberal arts graduates from your gleaming labs as we scrimp to buy highlighters.)
But, it's not all about money afterall, is it?
I'm sure some of you are getting all defensive at the mention of college in this column, as you prepare to puff up with indignation when I rag on the University of Tulsa. Well, puff away.
I've gone to both TU and TCC off and on since I graduated high school and this semester, I say a sad farewell to Tulsa Community College, as I take my last precious few guilt-free credit hours there and become nearly immersed in The Thing That Ate 11th Street. I think there are few left in Tulsa who don't find TU's "front door" to be an unnecessary nuisance at best, and the tragic destruction of local culture at worst. But this isn't the first time TU has taken the bulldozer to their surroundings.
About 10, 15 years ago, TU still supported a thriving surrounding neighborhood. Tulsa's only independent record store was nearby, students lived alongside locals in the Kendall neighborhood and student artists decorated the walls of businesses that they frequented.
Then something happened. University officials decided they wanted to be a more insular campus, and to achieve that, they needed more land for more residences. And so in 1994 they got themselves included in the Kendall-Whittier Urban Renewal Plan, thus entitling themselves to the right of eminent domain; the ability to condemn and claim any property also within the Plan for their own use.
They used this right to force or scare people out of about 110 homes (homes which they were rumored to have already been devalued by the university's having bought other property in the neighborhood and allowing it to deteriorate), to build their shoddy and characterless University Square Apartments, among other things. This new housing pulled students and their trust funds out of the neighborhood and onto the campus. Away from the good it could do us.
Countless other "hip" midsized cities have built their arts districts and walkable neighborhoods around their universities. Boulder, St. Louis, Tacoma. Even Norman. Here's the simple fact, people from the school have to have housing, food, and entertainment. Therefore, merchants and neighborhoods benefit from the dollars those people must spend, and better yet, "university people" are well-educated, something cities always love, and want to be able to walk from home to class to dinner etc.
The city benefits from the tax dollars and the atmosphere, the University is able to attract students by claiming to be a "college town" with a vibrant neighborhood and student life.
But when a University provides all this within its boundaries, the students never have to leave school-owned property. All their dollars return to the school. Worse, the students don't put down any roots in the town itself. They form no connections that make them want to stay when they graduate.
So they go back where they came from, and the city gains nothing. The University makes a mint, and as an unhealthy psychological side effect, the students end up babied and stunted, having had all their needs met by the school, from what to eat for dinner to how to get a job.
Now, counter this with TCC Metro's new Center for Creativity. Metro Campus is already a boon to downtown, bringing hundreds of students from all over the county into downtown every day. And now they're building a new building, atop some of our excess of asphalt, which is designed to integrate the students and teachers of TCC with the rest of the community. I won't quote my own article, but see my article of Nov. 22, 2006 at urbantulsa.com for all the particulars.
The Creativity Center will house the arts and communications departments, among other things, and the Distance Learning program will be run out of it. There's one very physical way that TCC is encouraging students to be a part of their community, but bring the education to them.
But most excitingly, the TCC Metro Center for Creativity is designed to integrate pedestrians and other downtown goers into the facilities. There will be studios, practice rooms and even an auditorium available for public use. There will be retail space on the ground floor. Not only is this infill, it's good infill. Not only is it good infill, it's good infill for everyone! And not only is the good infill for everyone, it's all for the sake of education!
As a whole, Tulsa Community College fosters an attitude of scholastic independence in their students, and encourages them to take control of their own lives through education. They treat their students like valuable customers, not children.
Not to get into petty bickering, but in the many experiences friends of mine and I've had when TCC and TU's administrative systems have overlapped, I have never once heard a TCC staffer or professor speak ill of the University of Tulsa.
Though nearly every time TCC comes up at TU, a snide comment is made about the slowness of their system, or the low quality of the education there. If you can't say anything nice, Hurricanes . . .
Higher education needs to be about more than just the books and the classes. It has to be about becoming an adult, becoming a member of a community. And not just some four-year long summer camp fairy-tale college experience, that's the real world. And what kind of lessons of citizenship and community are TU students learning as they see their tuition dollars going to demolish local traditions and small businesses, largely for the sake of collegiate vanity?
When TU was angling to be a part of the Urban Renewal Plan, then president Robert Donaldson explained the reason they wanted to be a residential campus. "Frankly," he confessed, "It makes for better alumni." Well, Tulsa doesn't need better alumni, it needs better citizens.
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