The future can wait: Elon needs to build for now

The university has many goals for expansion, but at what point will we stop and take a breath? Cartoon by Jessica Grembowski.
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Catapulted by its ambitious construction plans, determined academic initiatives and a revitalized campus and athletics, Elon University has risen through the ranks throughout the past two decades to sit deservedly as the No. 1 regional university of the south, according to U.S. News College Rankings.

For visitors touring the Elon University campus, it remains virtually impossible not to notice how extraordinarily beautiful it is. A new dining hall, new dorms in the heart of campus and signs foretelling even more future construction are all just small parts of Elon’s master plan to continue to overhaul the university.

But by placing an emphasis on always building for the future, a fair share of drawbacks occur and are felt by the current student body. Long-term goals remain the priority at Elon, but these goals have less benefit to students who currently call Elon home. Furthermore, Elon’s future construction goals do not completely consider the true needs of students. As Elon goes forward, an emphasis must be placed on smarter planning in all aspects of campus life, not just faster building.

So Elon — take a breath and slow down.

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The School of Communications will be expanding in the next few years. With all this expansion, the landscape of the southwest part of campus could change completely. File photo by Al Drago.

In recent weeks, Elon has seen a slew of minor but telling signs of some of the potential problems that come from building too much, too fast. When the focus is on the future, things in the present tend to go unnoticed until they become too big to ignore. Sewage leaks in the Oaks, poor sanitation ratings at one of only three dining halls on campus, mold in Virginia and Danieley— small oversights becoming big problems are symptoms of what happens when an emphasis on the future takes precedent over maintaining high quality in the present.

Then there are the day-to-day elements students feel only because they directly affect us. Long lines at dining halls and retail locations, mailroom lines backed up for half an hour and an overcrowded library are just some of the problems that need addressing before Elon can continue to grow its student body so rapidly. What do we expect to happen when we keep adding students to parts of our school that cannot even handle the current load without working to ease the problems?

Elon emphasizes improving educational quality remains the backbone of the entire campus initiative. But why do they make their construction priorities based around buildings that don’t directly benefit the students who currently call Elon home? Despite the fact Elon’s ongoing planning goals include “grow[ing] slowly, but not at the expense of academic quality,” only one of the eight main points (expanding academic facilities for science and communication) of the strategic decade plan from 2010-2020 actually directly adds to a stronger academic climate.

Other elements of the plan include a multimillion-dollar, 5,000-seat convocation center, a new admissions building, and a 1,500-seat auditorium, all while assisting and promoting retail development in the Town of Elon.

Construction abounds across campus as the Global Neighborhood takes shape and the university prepares to clear out Moseley parking lot for a new admissions building. File photo by Al Drago.

Construction abounds across campus as the Global Neighborhood takes shape and the university prepares to clear out Moseley parking lot for a new admissions building. File photo by Al Drago.

Furthering the intellectual infrastructure of Elon should be the first priority, the factors that help every student at Elon thrive. Dining halls, access to appropriate parking, adequate numbers of class sections, top-level teachers, and appropriate residential life is the infrastructure we need to consider before we start throwing up new, pricey centerpieces of our already incredible campus. A 5,000-person convocation center does the student body no good if the library is still too small.

Elon’s growth remains a point of pride, and for good reason. With the largest class sizes in Elon’s history, record numbers of applicants and higher incoming standardized test scores and high school GPAs, we’re having no trouble attracting national attention as it is.

But what happens when these record class sizes continue to grow without addressing current problems for students? Finding a spot in the library will be impossible, lines at the dining halls will be even longer during the lunch and dinner rushes and the mailroom line will pour out of Moseley. Simply put, without smarter planning with current students in mind, the Elon student body will outgrow the parts of Elon vital for their success.

If we always build for the future and never stop to see how the present choices affect current students, Elon will miss the point of providing a truly elite college experience. Academic excellence should never get lost in the shuffle of a beautiful new building. Current students should never take a backseat to future students.

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  • Jesus Christ

    If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.

  • Phoenix1

    Didn’t we just build another dining hall, renovate a bunch of resident halls this past summer, add 5 new residence halls in the Global Village, and completely renovate the Moseley center to be more usable for current students? Our academic standing is the highest it has ever been. I disagree when you say “we have no trouble attracting national attention”. Outside of the northeast, many people still have never heard of Elon, so it is important that we continue to grow so that we become impossible to ignore.

    • NYsportsfan

      What does “growing” have to do with being recognized? There are many benefits of a small university, and we must remember that.
      Duke is small, and VERY prestigious. Wake Forest – same thing!
      How about Hamilton, Colby, Middlebury, Colgate, etc?

      We need not grow larger, but rather improve what we already have.

      • Phoenix1

        The fact of the matter is we are different from Duke, Wake, and all the other elite liberal arts schools you mentioned. Those schools all have an extremely strong history and have been well established for quite some time. Elon really didn’t come into the mix of elite liberal arts schools until this past decade, and therefore suffers from lack of name recognition and history. Therefore, the strategy seems to be, lets build one of the most impressive campuses in the country to attract more applicants and be able to increase selectivity, thereby raising the academic standards of the school. And has it worked? Well, just look at the historical rankings of the school, admissions rates, etc. and that should answer the question.

        I see no reason why we can’t “improve what we already have” (day to day operations, academics, etc.) while also building for the future. Seems to be two entirely different departments of the school.

  • WP

    I feel like something to discuss is why all these new buildings are going up. Don’t get me wrong, I agree that there are some buildings and areas on campus in desperate need of renovation (just ask the dance/theater department or the music tech majors), but dining halls and dorm rooms are how the University brings in new students. New students are how the University grows. When the University grows, its facilities need to keep up with or exceed those expectations. I also don’t think President Lambert’s personal goal is to run a University of 20,000 undergraduate students…but being able to be more selective and accepting more new students as the number of application increases isn’t a wild idea.

    Gerald Whittington (I believe that’s who it was…maybe it was someone in Univ. Advancement) had mentioned that Elon was able to lock in some interest rates that made it possible (and financially smart) to build at a faster pace. So, maybe Elon is taking advantage of this. And how aren’t the new buildings (the renovations/additions to Moseley & Lakeside, the new Global Neighborhood, recent additions to the Colonnades, future plans for a new welcome center and new Communications building) “buildings that don’t directly benefit the students who currently call Elon home?” Isn’t that exactly what those buildings are doing—providing a benefit to the current students? Don’t those fall under the “Dining halls, … and appropriate residential life…” category? And isn’t Elon about to start on new “appropriate parking” lots?

  • DF

    While you raise some good points, I must say that I disagree with most of the points you make. One of the reasons I chose Elon was that the school was committed to expanding and improving and I liked that they kept building new facilities. Also, Elon is in a transition period. We are growing from a regional school, to one that attracts national attention and is considered a prestigious institution. Elon is making that move to the national stage and with it come some bumps, but in the end Elon’s reputation will improve. I am proud that I can be part of this transition and help get Elon to that national stage where everyone knows who we are.

    One issue I have with your points is that you can’t link problems with existing facilities to building new facilities. the people responsible for the upkeep of buildings aren’t the same ones building the new facilities. If there evidence that Elon is taking money from the upkeep of buildings and putting into new facilities then I would see your point, but I doubt that is happening.

    Another issue is your point about the library being overcrowded. A library’s main purpose is for research and finding books, periodicals, or journals. The library is also a place to use technology such as computers. I don’t think there is an issue with not being able to find books or find articles. Your issue with overcrowding is there isn’t a private room or comfy couch for you to use. Students can use any classroom in any academic building as a study room and Koury Business Center has study rooms as well. Regular classrooms can serve the same purpose as library rooms, because let’s be honest, how many people are using the library to find physical sources?

    Sure parking is an issue, but many schools struggle with the same problem. A bigger convocation center could have academic benefits. With a bigger center, Elon could host national or regional conferences that would benefit students and bring intellects to Elon. And while bigger graduating classes may bring bigger class sizes, I think Elon should be able to keep class sizes in the 20’s and high 30’s, which would still be better than many schools. Our main concern should be hiring better and more professors who can increase the academic rigor. More professors means that class sizes can remain smaller.

    Finally there is the issue of money. Elon will never have the endowment of a Harvard or Yale, where they build whatever they want and know there will still be plenty left over. Elon has managed to keep tuition costs very reasonable. It would be very easy to raise tuition and room and board to well over $50,000 and use that money to solve these small numbers. Elon has done an admirable job trying to keep students’ costs down. I raise this question, would you rather raise tuition to a very high number, and while you can solve more problems by throwing money at them, maybe you lock out some students who are academically capable, but can’t afford the bill, or you keep tuition manageable and some small problems persist, but Elon is a viable option for more students?

    I love Elon and feel that not only is the future bright, but the present is bright as well. For Elon to reach the national stage, they must continue to grow and expand and we happen to be the group of students that are at Elon when the expansion is happening.

    • NYsportsfan

      I didn’t come here to have class sizes in the 30’s and say “oh well, it’s better than state schools.” No, I came here for 20 or 25-student classes.
      Do not bail out poor moves by saying “well X school is still worse.” I can just as easily point to another school that is BETTER. Let’s strive for the best, not say “well we’re not the worst.”

  • MaryofWest

    Can the author please explain the link between a sewage leak in a residence hall and the building of say, a new communications school in 5 years? How on Earth did you come to the conclusion that long term building plans are in fact the cause of a day to day operations issue? Do you really think the school just has one big pile of money, and that long term building is draining all of our resources for day to day maintenance? Of course not! It’s two totally separate issues. You can’t possibly blame day to day grievances on the future plans of the school. But if you have proof, I would love to see it.

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