Odds Without Ends

Over the last decade or so, St. John’s has effectively transitioned from a local Queens college to a nationally-respected school, drawing students from not only the entire country, but throughout the world. This expansion, however, has not been without a few growing pains.

Perhaps most painful was last year’s housing problem, which came about due to the unexpected and unprecedented size of the incoming freshman class. As a result, the University was forced to provide temporary housing to students at a Holiday Inn during the Fall semester and then, later in the year, stuff its dorms past its usual limits. Sometimes, they even packed four unfortunate students in a standard triple room, resulting in dissatisfied and understandably upset students.

To St. John’s credit, they have listened to their critics and attempted to solve their problem. The University’s recently-unveiled plan to overhaul the entire Queens campus comes as a breath of fresh air for a University that, since the creation of its dorms, has struggled to make any meaningful renovations. The $145 million project aims to beautify the campus, fix any potential problems in older buildings, and provide more housing to incoming students.

The renovations should be welcomed by the student body, and the University should be applauded for their idea. However, the criticism has remained in full force.

Students have complained to me time and time again that their tuition money is being spent on all the wrong things; “why spend money to make things prettier?” argue some, while others insist that the school spend its money on improving its academic programs, hiring more prestigious professors, and providing more services to students.

This criticism is simply unwarranted.

The renovations that St. John’s has planned are both practical and necessary and, ultimately, well worth the money. For example, fixing the pipes in Newman Hall, the center for IT, is an important measure to take in order to prevent any catastrophes from happening, and improving the labs in St. Albert Hall could add even more credibility to a growing Pharmacy program – arguably the most popular and well-known undergraduate field right now at St. John’s.

Critics still argue that St. John’s renovations are too focused on making the campus prettier and not actually improving the academics of the school. On paper, this seems pretty accurate. After all, by erecting a new building next to Sullivan and improving the look of the school, how is St. John’s advancing some of its struggling academic programs?

On the contrary, what these critics fail to realize is the major importance of the aesthetics of a university, especially in recruiting new students.

Former Torch Editor-in-Chief Stephen Pasqualina urged St. John’s last year to raise its admission standards to attract higher-caliber students, and he could not have been more right. But making the school look more beautiful, although it may not seem so on paper, can have a profound effect on the type of students that come to St. John’s.

This past Memorial Day Weekend, a few of my friends and I had the opportunity to travel to Houston, Texas. While there, we visited Rice University and, although I knew absolutely nothing about Rice University as I entered the campus, I found myself partly wishing I went to a school that looked as nice as it did. Rice, a sprawling campus with beautiful, regal-looking buildings and what seemed like perfectly-cut lawns, struck me immediately as a school I would want to go to – even though I had no idea what the University was really like.

Rice could have been the lowest-ranked college in the entire nation according to U.S. News and World Report, but I still had a strong desire to learn more and possibly even go to such a beautiful school.

Similarly, St. John’s decision to improve its campus could inspire these same thoughts in other prospective students. In a time when it seems easy for critics to attack the University, detractors should take a minute to think about the results of the planned renovations; the overhaul should be applauded as not only a way for St. John’s to provide better services to its students (like a new University Center to replace the broken-down one we have now), but also as a means to attract higher-quality students by the sheer beauty of the school.

That seems like $145 million well-spent.