Better Campus Living Through Luxury

Nothing like unwinding in the pool after physics class.

A recent Wall Street Journal article titled “Resort Living Comes to Campus” highlights the “increasing appetite for luxury living” among students.

Splashy photographs of private housing developments designed for undergraduate living near Michigan State University, Texas A&M, the University of Central Florida, and Arizona State show lagoon-shaped pools, fireplaces surrounded by overstuffed leather chairs, and sandy volleyball courts framed by carefully manicured landscapes.

As unlikely as it might seem to those of us who lived in cinder-block shoebox quarters as undergraduates and thought ourselves lucky, this story about student digs was on the front page of the Journal section called “Mansion.”

We get plenty of details about amenities provided by private developers who regard proximity to campus as a bonus. For example, those lagoon-shaped pools are heated. There’s also on-site pet-grooming services, tanning salons, and of course private bathrooms: “Now, I can take a five-hour shower and not worry about it, or take a bubble bath,” one student says.

There are television screens larger than those at small-town multiplexes, yoga studios, billiard tables, putting greens, and, at the Cottages of College Station, near the Texas A&M campus, they have something called a “cornhole pit.” That probably means something other than what it meant in my old neighborhood, but if it doesn’t, then  way to go with exploring erotic diversity, Texas A&M!

Naturally the article got me wondering: What amenities would private developers provide for faculty? It’s not realistic, of course—most of us pack our own lunches because the prices at the food court or food cart are too high. But what if we could afford to choose the details of our work environments? I asked some friends to let their imaginations rip.

Can you guess the first item on the list? I bet you can. Private toilets. Faculty would pay real money for their own bathrooms. “It’s ridiculously hard to pee next to somebody you’re about to grade,” said a friend who teaches in a public college outside Washington. “I have a shy bladder as it is. If one of my students is trying to talk to me while I’m trying to go, I’m done.”

Second item on the list: designated parking spaces. Real ones, where, as a scholar from Chicago put it, “Students who attempted to park in faculty spaces would have their vehicles removed and sold for parts, with monies received going to the AAUP Endowment Fund.” I discovered that many colleges have a system similar to the one used by my own institution, which permits me to pay several hundred dollars per year in order to own a parking sticker but in no respect whatsoever links that transaction to an actual space to park. The so-called Parking Sticker represents simply a Wittgensteinian notion, an abstract, if you will, with little connection to the practical matter of putting a car someplace where it won’t be ticketed or towed.

Personally, I want a sufficient number of outlets. I’m not speaking metaphorically here, about either emotions or media. The kind of outlets I want are for plugs with prongs. My basement office looks like a tenement: I have 178 devices plugged into three power strips. All I need to complete the Lower East Side look is to hook an electric tea kettle up to a bare lighting fixture hanging from the ceiling. If this baby ever blows, the whole building will rise up like Dorothy’s house on its way to Oz.

Some colleagues came up with items I would not have envisioned but, once mentioned, can instantly embrace. Security cameras—”the kind that let you buzz into your office only the people you actually want to see thereby refusing entry to the droners and moaners.” Vestibules—”so my students could sit somewhere besides the filthy, often wet, floor while they wait for class or an appointment.” “Classrooms where you could turn off WiFi.” “Classrooms and offices with windows that open so we are not breathing foul, recirculated air at all times.” “Offices shared by no more than six people at any one time.”

Other surprising and modest requests included “full-length mirrors so you can see what you look like before you face a lecture—no socks scrunched below the pant leg, no spills from a recent meal, no excessive dandruff, and shoes neatly tied.”

I have a number of friends who teach as contingent faculty; what they want are luxuries like bookshelves and desks—not to mention a teaching schedule they can count on. Benefits would be good. “Like high-school students, adjunct faculty should at least have lockers,” says an old pal in the CUNY system. “I carry everything with me, like a camel not of the desert but of the halls of academe and the subway.”

So the next time you’re wondering what you really want at work—a nap room? a tap room?—try to remember that scholars and teachers have something money can’t buy: the ability to live without any amenities whatsoever. Will our students be able to say as much?

Gina Barreca is a professor of English and feminist theory at the University of Connecticut.

(Photo from Flickr/CC user Sofitel So Mauritius Bel Ombre)




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