Syracuse University is suing its own lawyers over paperwork in a real estate deal turned sour.
The university filed suit against local law firm Bond, Schoeneck & King, charging legal malpractice over the way lawyers represented the university in a contract with a developer to build a $20 million fitness center and bookstore. A key clause was not included in legal documents, reported The Post-Standard.
That clause, a “time is of the essence” clause, would have allowed the university to break its contract with developer Cameron Hill Construction without fear of liability in the event that the developer missed a financing deadline. The university severed its contract with the developer in 2014 because of construction delays and a failure to secure financing. The developer is suing the university for ending the contract, blaming the university for delays and alleging breach of contract.
Bond, Schoeneck & King is the largest law firm in the city of Syracuse. It has represented Syracuse University for years, notably making $4 million in the 2012 fiscal year, the year the firm took part in investigating child-molestation charges against former associate basketball coach Bernie Fine.
New York City law firm Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman is representing the university in the case against Bond, Schoeneck & King. The local law firm continues to represent the university regarding other issues, The Post-Standard reported.
Colleges and universities continue to record a growing backlog in deferred facilities maintenance, according to a new report released Monday.
The campus facilities maintenance, modernization and infrastructure backlog averaged $100.07 per gross square foot in 2015, said the 2016 “State of Facilities in Higher Education” report, which has been released annually for four years by facilities data and consulting firm Sightlines. That’s up from $97.56 in 2014 and $81.72 in 2007.
Public and private institutions posted significantly different backlogs. Backlogs were higher at public institutions, averaging more than $108 per gross square foot. They were lower at private institutions, averaging $88 per gross square foot. Private institutions tend to invest more in facilities maintenance and modernization.
Enrollment trends place different facilities pressures on institutions of different sizes, the report found. Many small institutions that recently borrowed money to renovate or build in a bid to attract more students are now facing enrollment declines. They have seen enrollment drop by 3 percent since 2012 even though they’ve increased facilities development by 4 percent. Comprehensive institutions are opening new space just as they’re hit by enrollment stagnation -- they increased their space by almost 14 percent cumulatively since 2012 but only posted a 1 percent enrollment increase over the same time period.
Meanwhile, research universities face another set of circumstances, with enrollment spiking 13 percent since 2007 compared to a slower expansion of space of between 8 percent and 9 percent.
Many campuses postponed capital investment in aging existing facilities as they put up new buildings, the report said. Since 2007, capital invested in existing space has averaged $5 per gross square foot. Public institutions spent less -- $4.50 per gross square foot on average, versus $5.20 for private institutions.
More nonacademic space has been built than academic space in the last 100 years. In 1915, 70 percent of available space was built for academic purposes, compared to roughly 50 percent in 2015.
The report included data from 377 institutions in the United States and Canada collectively enrolling three million students. They had a collective 1.4 billion square feet of campus space.
As long as universities have been around, people have debated the purposes for which they are intended and what they actually might be. One way that has played out is in the myriad metaphors that have attached themselves to higher education.
We are all aware of the central metaphors of campus life: the ivory tower, the college community and the recent earnest demand that we see college as a business. Metaphors do their work by a sort of cognitive mapping, illuminating the complex and unknown by reference to things we think we understand. What we would like to offer as a provocation is a metaphor that maps the relationship between modern educators and the institutions that they serve as being similar to that between cities and suburbanites. This metaphor can illuminate some of the cultural problems on many campuses, including the general mistrust between faculty members and administrators as well as the concerns over the corporatization of the university.
The single most immediately recognizable -- indeed clichéd -- feature of American middle-class cultural life is the suburb. In the ideal, suburbanites divide their political and personal allegiances between where they work and where they live. In the stereotypical idealization, suburbanites are middle-class owners of detached single-family homes who live a physical and psychic distance from the cities where their jobs are located. Commuting to their places of work by automobile or, more rarely, by public transportation, suburbanites have a different relationship to the cities in which they work than do the residents of those cities.
Is there anything in this cliché that does not map the relationship of most academics to the institutions they serve? As much as we faculty members may be devoted to our jobs and, perhaps by extension to our institutions, we have much the same relationship with our colleges as suburban commuters do with the cities where they work. Our college, a midsize residential comprehensive college, is by no means unique. About 5,000 undergraduates inhabit the campus 24/7. We faculty arrive en masse, mostly in single-occupant automobiles, between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., Monday through Friday, and leave like an ebb tide by around 5 p.m. After that time and on weekends, the only people on campus over the age of 22 are the campus police, a skeleton maintenance staff and the heroic librarians -- except for when we show up for the occasional performance, sporting event or lecture.
A walk through the halls of most colleges in the evening and at night can be quite unnerving. The campus does throb with life after we have left it, but it is a culture in which we do not participate, about which we are almost entirely ignorant and which we often publicly disdain. The people who inhabit our campuses live in a different polity than we do. Their behavior often appalls us. They stay up late. They carouse. We pontificate among ourselves about their lack of work ethic and impulse control.
Most of all, they are not like us, and we rarely have contact with them in what we think of as their cultural space. Ultimately, the campus is designed for the students who live there.
Our academic facilities have been imagined as suburban destinations. A typical faculty building has no common areas, no places for collaboration or socialization, nothing but a row of “houses” in which we keep our office hours. The layout of most of our offices is side by side and uncommunicating on a hallway, and while we may talk to our neighbors in the hall, the next floor up or down is often too far away to result in casual conversation. We all know that if you want to meet other faculty members, you should join a committee.
Classrooms are typically shaped entirely to serve a single purpose. Victims of the brutalist nostrum that form follows function, we can do little with our buildings other than teach classes, and they stand unused at virtually all other times. Only the most profligate enterprise would pay the enormous capital expense of erecting a staggering numbers of buildings to be used only for a few hours a day, five days a week, for less than eight months out of a year.
Unlike a city, however, we have little public space. Typically, there are few if any restaurants or coffeehouses that provide a place for accidental meetings, conversations or general sociability. Faculty members often eat lunch in their offices or not at all, because they don’t have any other place to go. The dining halls are for students, too crowded and seldom worth the cost. Although our hometown is often cited as one of the best coffee towns in America, the campus coffee bars are of poor quality and close at 4 p.m. At the end of the workday when one might like to carry on a conversation or just chat with whoever might be around and have a drink, we have to leave campus. Just as there is no coffeehouse to spend some time in during the day, there is no pub in which to unwind at the end of it.
The net result of all of this is that faculty members and administrators rarely interact without great effort or an unusual circumstance. Administrators commute just as we do. But like commuters to a separate company, they are mostly housed in their own building. We might converse with someone before a meeting or at the occasional event such as a retirement or celebration of newly tenured faculty. But that’s about it.
When put in this light, it is easy to see why faculty members don’t trust administrators or often even other faculty members. Fundamentally, we don’t know each other as people. We get electronic memos from administrators regularly, and they give us speeches a few times a year, but generally speaking, that is the extent of our communication. This is not a healthy campus culture, as it fosters distrust and misunderstandings. In fact, it makes it harder to move the campus forward, and the time saved by not fostering relationships is wasted in confrontation at every initiative.
Is there a solution to this situation? The campus functions well as a city for students, yet it also needs to function, at least to some extent, as a city for faculty members and administrators. We suggest that an architectural commitment to, if not full citizenship, then, at the least, simple sociability might be a starting place.
Of course, changes in architecture would require resources, which, in turn, would require commitment by administrators and collaboration with faculty members. So, where are the places where such conversations might begin? Perhaps those most humble and common toadstools in the academic garden: the Facilities Planning Committee, the Space Committee or whatever they call it at your institution, where faculty members, administrators, staff members and students meet the bright-eyed designers of our various campuses. We say flood the zone with communitarian activists who envision our campuses as something other than mere workplaces.
The stakes here are high and not merely aesthetic. If we continue to design campuses like cities in which the faculty have no stake in citizenship, then we will remain commuters into a city with no place for us and behaving like suburbanites. We will continue to lack shared values and generally mistrust each other. For colleges to evolve in a healthy manner -- and we do need to evolve -- it will take a collaborative effort and increased interaction among all campus constituents.
Thomas J. Pfaff is a professor of mathematics and Robert Sullivan is an associate professor of communication studies at Ithaca College.
In an Instagram video, former Fox News host Greta Van Susteren proclaimed that she is “scandalized” by the cost of education and how college students are saddled with “gigantic student loans.”
Viewers may well have been nodding in agreement at that point in the video. And if they heard last month’s NPR program on how more colleges are opening food pantries, it makes sense to many to say that higher education is too expensive for students, their parents and families -- both while students are enrolled in college and afterward, and whether a degree is earned or not.
But academic libraries are part of the solution in higher education rather than part of the problem, and Van Susteren quickly ran off the rails when she targeted academic libraries as the culprit.
Van Susteren complained about “vanity projects,” specifically mentioning the construction of library buildings and adding that students are footing the bill for them.
She posted similar comments on Twitter, exclaiming, “Colleges should stop building vanity projects like huge libraries and billing students -- full libraries are on our smartphones!”
Those comments, made by someone who claims to support libraries, are destructively misleading to the general public as well as higher education administrators and legislative decision makers about the significant contributions academic libraries make to teaching and learning.
To say that an academic library can be reduced to an app on a smartphone dangerously trivializes what libraries and library professionals have to offer and their real value to the higher education infrastructure -- value that far outweighs the costs associated with them.
An Artery to the Heart
Academic librarians play a vital part in the education ecosystem, putting information into context for students by distinguishing information from knowledge and offering direct assistance to constituents in a personal way that cannot be replicated by an electronic device.
In addition, students who receive information-literacy instruction as part of their courses achieve higher grades and demonstrate increased research fluency than students who do not receive such instruction. Further, a library’s research and study areas offer a destination for those who can’t afford quiet space as well as fostering social and academic community among students.
Far from being tangential to the learning process on our college campuses, libraries -- the physical buildings themselves -- are as essential to the classroom as an artery is to the heart. For example, Michigan State University recently released a heat map of the campus’s climate that found that the library was one of the most supportive spaces on campus because it affirmed students’ diverse identities through offering a variety of spaces to work differently with information, such as digital humanities labs, green screens, maker spaces and media labs -- all of which supported them in their innovative and creative academic work.
Indeed, architects who design academic libraries usually no longer see them as just iconic buildings in the design of campuses but also identify them as “sticking” spaces where students return -- due to the availability of technology, the welcoming environment for individuals and study groups, the flexibility for their own design of workspaces, as well as student-support destinations with late-night assistance.
Student and researcher demands have driven the creation of many of the newer amenities available in renovated libraries. For example, while cafés may attract attention, the majority of space and planning has been given to creation of engaging learning spaces where knowledge creation is the focus. That has compelled the vision of the learning laboratories, user-focused collaborative hubs and maker spaces that so many academic and research libraries have embraced.
While collaborative spaces can be virtual, too, we’ve found that such dynamic, interactive, face-to-face spaces in renovated libraries have resonated with our campus populations. For example after a million-dollar renovation primarily funded by donors, the College of Wooster’s library’s gate count increased to 15,000 a week for a campus of 2,000 students. College officials attribute this to the addition of CoRE, or the Collaborative Research Environment, an interactive learning space where students can develop collaborative projects using digital and traditional media, and consult with an expert research librarian, work with writing center consultants and get help digitizing their projects at a media bar.
While there may be other laboratories across a campus, they do not provide the access to information, librarian expertise and interdisciplinary integration that academic and research libraries sustain. In addition:
Academic libraries provide (for the haves and the have-nots) spaces or commons -- primarily “high-tech ready” in nature -- that offer general and subject-specific equipment, software and web-delivered content for individual access and study. They also offer collaborative spaces for students to work together with each other in small groups and with classroom faculty to study and create content.
Academic libraries provide spaces for STEM and STEAM discovery or maker space environments for students anywhere in the program or the curriculum -- especially those who don’t have access to departmental labs, where spaces are often reserved for students majoring in those specific areas.
Academic libraries provide open labs and flexible, individual computer spaces with equipment and software unique to special research or subject area populations, such as geographic information systems or statistical software packages to process data used in the study of social and natural sciences. They also serve special needs students, faculty members and staff.
Academic libraries provide not only access to content within their buildings but also equipment and technology that students can check out and use in their educational pursuits. (This takes space for not only storage but also delivery of resources.)
Meanwhile, academic library professionals, often faculty members themselves, are experts in areas of research, and they work in partnership with classroom instructors in the design and delivery of curricula. They also:
partner with classroom faculty members in the design and delivery of courses requiring critical thinking and information literacy as well as subject-targeted assignments;
are champions for and leaders in open educational resources that provide vetted, free content for students who can’t afford textbooks, a large part of the price tag of college;
build digital as well as print collections to reflect classroom faculty research, recommended research by other experts and subject content required by external regional and national accreditation bodies -- such as digital and print content for the health sciences and business-management curricula; and,
acquire, curate, design and deliver online content and competency lessons (online tutorials, streamed office hours with library experts) for students to access on their smartphones.
We invite Van Susteren to visit one or more of our nation’s fine academic libraries, such as that of her alma mater, the University of Wisconsin at Madison, or any of ACRL’s Excellence in Academic Libraries award winners. She will see firsthand the role those libraries play in the life of knowledge and information and how an investment in them is an investment in the success and future of our college students -- and, in turn, the success and future of our nation.
Julie Todaro is the president of the American Library Association and the dean of library services at Austin Community College. Irene M. H. Herold is the president of the Association of College and Research Libraries and University Librarian at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa.
I confess that, when it came to recreation centers, I was once a card-carrying member of the arched-eyebrow club. In my former position as budget director and later vice chancellor for finance for the Ohio Board of Regents, I had limited authority over campus issuance of new debt for construction. “Tut, tut, tut,” I used to think. “How could the trustees and administrators be so extravagant as to spend money on these luxurious student facilities? Why aren't running, cycling and walking on outdoor paths good enough? Why can't students do calisthenics in their dorm rooms?” (The tuts are added for dramatic effect. I never actually thought these words.)
Fortunately for the campuses and students in public institutions in Ohio, my opinion had little effect on these decisions. In terms of process, the institutions were, like Caesar's wife, above suspicion. The administrations would generally seek and receive approval from students, either through an actual referendum or through student government. Students would usually approve the projects and, most importantly, the new fees associated with them.
At the University of Cincinnati, students approved the immediate imposition of new fees for a recreation center they would never use -- due to the construction schedule -- arguing that previous generations of students had supported existing, older facilities, and that the current cohort of students were in debt for these past sacrifices and investments. The staff of the Board of Regents would review the financial viability of the project, making sure that operations and debt could be financed with the plan submitted by the campus.
I was on a road in Athens -- Ohio, not Damascus -- when I got knocked off of my proverbial ass, discovered the value of these centers and changed my opinion 180 degrees. I visited the Ping Center at Ohio University on a Saturday night. What I discovered amazed me. I found the 168,000-square-foot recreation center filled with hundreds of students, faculty and staff, exercising, competing in recreational and intramural sports, socializing, doing homework in the juice bar, and generally having productive shared experiences in a safe, comfortable and challenging environment.
At a time when binge drinking and obesity are two of the most serious health issues faced by college students, and faculty-student interactions are few and far between, I was impressed with the level and type of unstructured, positive activity I witnessed among students and faculty that night. I assume that recreation centers at other institutions serve similar purposes. In addition, at urban campuses, these centers serve as a magnet on weekends and off hours that bring people, life and income to areas that otherwise would be dark and dead. In a small way, they help keep the city alive.
For someone who is still proud of his education in the liberal arts, it took me a long time to come to appreciate the words of the Roman poet Juvenal: “Mens sana in corpore sano.”
You can look it up on your smartphone, while you're on your stationary bike, at your campus recreation center.
Richard Petrick is the retired vice chancellor for finance of the Ohio Board of Regents.