opinion | Elite universities are out of touch. Blame the campus.

Looking out the window of a plane that took off over Boulder, Colorado, I was reminded how isolated American universities are from their surroundings.

I had never been to Boulder, or visited the major campus of the University of Colorado there, but even from 30,000 feet, I could tell where it began and ended. The complex’s red-tiled roofs and quadrangles created a small self-contained world completely separate from the grid of single-family homes that surrounded it.

In urban universities, the dividing line between campus and community can be even deeper. At the University of Southern California, for example, students must check in with security officers when entering university gates at night. At Yale, the palace-like architecture makes the complex feel like a fortified enclave.

The elite American universities today are a paradox: even as concerns about social justice continue to haunt students and administrations, these universities often fall out of touch with the society they care so much about. claim to. but many Correct and in the hub Believe that universities have become ideological echo chambers. Some people on the left see him as “graveyard for radical thought,

These criticisms are not new – for generations people have thought of American universities as ivory towers, far from reality – but they have taken on new urgency as public debate over the state of higher education has intensified in recent years. Ideology and institutional culture are often given attention, but an important factor is often overlooked: geography.

The compound is a uniquely American invention. (The origin of the term to describe Princeton dates back to the late 1700s.) Attempts to create a separate environment for scholars occurred at a time when elite American opinion was convinced that cities were den of moral corruption, It was thought that placing students in rural areas and on self-contained campuses would protect their qualities.

Although such ideas have lost their appeal in recent years, to this day American universities are fundamentally different from their surrounding communities than their European counterparts. And being located around a strongly defined central campus, often featuring trademark Gothic-style architecture, remains a point of pride for elite American universities.

But what students and teachers gain in the heightened sense of academic community that comes from campus life can get lost in regular interactions with people who don’t live in the world of academia. The campus, by design, restricts opportunities to encounter people from a wide range of occupations, education levels and class backgrounds.

Of course, students like to spend time with other students, and scholars connect with other scholars. And it’s good for education and research. But on top of this there is no need to impose geographical isolation from society.

We all instinctively extend insights from our communities and day-to-day interactions, imagining that they are true of the nation at large. Essentially, this means that our view of the country is slightly distorted – but distortions for the people of the university. can be extreme, Stuck on campus, academics risk limiting their knowledge and for the wide-spread spread of American society.

In other words, what is not most dangerous to the health of America’s intellectual elite is that most professors have the same cultural tastes and the same liberal politics. Maybe it will always be like this. It’s that the campus setup makes it easy for them to forget that reasonable people often don’t share their point of view.

The student body and faculty have become more diverse in recent decades, but let us not be fooled into thinking that elite universities have become microcosms of society: the highly educated are far more liberal than the average Americans. The division is not just political: whatever their socioeconomic background, the daily routines of students and professors differ greatly from those of lawyers, shopkeepers or manual laborers – and it shapes their worldviews.

Life at a university with a major central campus can also limit students’ views of the world, especially in colleges where most graduates live on campus. Letting the university take care of all the needs of students – food, housing, health care, policing, punishing misbehavior – can be for the infant to the young adults. Worse, it distorts the students’ political thinking to eat what materializes in front of them and lives in residence halls that others keep clean.

It also takes away the opportunity to encounter people with different roles in society, from retail workers to landlords – conversations that remind them they won’t be students forever and about the social relevance of the ideas they face at university. I have open questions.

Community outreach programs can help broaden students’ perspectives, but a better approach would be to configure the physical footprint of universities in such a way that interactions with surrounding communities are natural.

Overall, urban state universities such as Rutgers University’s Newark campus do a better job of integrating with their environments than typical private universities – with the possible exception of NYU but colleges in smaller cities, towns and suburbs also integrate their physicals. Can do more. presents more readily with the surrounding environment. Both the university and the community have a lot to gain.

Some have even begun to break the boundaries between the city and the dress because of economic necessity. After reopening in 2011 after three years of closure, Antioch College, a small liberal arts college in Yellow Springs, Ohio (population 3,972 in 2020), was created new residential building On unused parts of its campus, gives residents access to college events and the library.

Less graduate housing on campus would be a good start to encourage more overlap between university and society. If universities had less overall control over the lives of their students, they could do without a lot of administrators – potentially cutting runaway costs. education, It could reverse the trend toward college raid On independent student life.

This can make student activism both more grounded and more effective. More contact with nearby communities will encourage more student advocacy for issues that have material implications for society (housing rights, say) and less for those that do not (such as whether certain public figures should be allowed to speak on the campus).

Of course, students will likely still be in certain areas of campus – some of it is unavoidable and not a bad thing. But universities and local governments must try to prevent students from dominating neighborhoods such as Westwood, which is adjacent to UCLA, or else they will come to act as an extension of the campus, shifting the student population to surrounding communities. To defeat the point of these attempts to integrate.

Bringing American universities into closer contact with society would reinvent academic inquiry and produce graduates with broader minds and greater social awareness. How to go about it? One option is political. The federal government has a massive influence on higher education through its funding powers and can provide additional funding for colleges that configure their physical footprints in a less centralized manner.

There is a cultural change that also needs to happen: Americans will need to stop associating central campus with prestige and look down on so-called commuter schools – often quietly – where most campus housing does not. Finally, there is room for an upstart university to demonstrate that higher education can be successful even when it is not oriented around a campus. A university that does not position itself against the community around it can make better use of its cultural resources.

Reintroducing the university to society is also an opportunity to redouble our attention to American urbanism. For urban universities to blend into their surroundings, cities need to be safe, affordable and pleasant. Colleges must work with local governments to address problems such as homelessness, crime and cost of living. Wealthy universities can take the first step by using their absolute treasury and extensive real estate holdings to build homeless shelters and affordable housing – then benefiting from the improved health of their host cities.

The university should not be isolated from other institutions. That would mean replacing its much-needed critical stance with conformity and commercialization. But it needs more integration with society, and the best way to do this is to remove the many barriers that separate it from the outside world.

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