Mizzouland: How college shouldn’t be

Thursday, May 31, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:18 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Just south of Stadium Boulevard, where it is bisected by Providence Road, we can get a glimpse of the Mizzou of the future. The athletic complex is a welcome symbol of the university’s direction. North of Stadium, the campus looks much like it always did, except for new hotel-like dorms and the journalism school’s extension under construction rising beside the Sociology Building. What has become a vast seven-building journalism complex at the northeast edge of the Quad will doubtless spur more building activity in the sports complex.

Much still needs to be done to develop MU into the Disneyland-on-the-Hinkson that it was destined to be. Mizzou Arena, along with Faurot, the box-like “Hernia” (Hearnes Center), and the spruced-up baseball field and athletic office complex take care of the area at the intersection of Stadium and Providence.

But the rest of the campus — north of Stadium — is still too staid and academic to suit many tastes. Too much open space and grass on the north of the columns. Not enough zip and zing. Not enough income-producing spectaculars (theater productions just won’t do it.) Maybe a few billiard halls in and around Jesse Hall might help. And some bowling alleys. And perhaps even some casinos to tie in with game-theory and statistical analysis. All with plenty of neon signs.

Perhaps a soccer stadium would spruce up the area near Peace Park — big, gaudy and extravagant — to compete with the Reynolds Emporium that will spin around the old Sociology Building. Also, too many trees in Peace Park obscure the view of other buildings nearby. And after all, Peace Park gets very little use, and the few peace demonstrations that have been held there have done no good.

Things are indeed looking up, but the campus still has a certain “academic” (if not intellectual) air about it. Too serious. The library, for instance, has far too many books. How many of them are actually used each year? Maybe MU should eliminate books completely and depend totally on electronic documents.

Some few holdouts from past days may want to see more classrooms, seminar rooms, outstanding faculty members and non-inflated grades. But for the rest of us, it’s the football and basketball teams, the colorful millionaire coaches, the cheerleaders, the band and the halftime show, the spirited tailgating, and the color and splash of it all that really make a university.

How can we get excited about Shakespeare, Isaac Newton, Einstein, Kant and Wordsworth when there is so much excitement on the athletic fields? Too much studying at a university makes Jack a dull boy and isolates him from the real excitement and glory of going to college.

Without a doubt, universities need more coaches, more razzle-dazzle electronic equipment, more expensive seating spaces for the elite spectators, more parking spaces near the fields of competition, and certainly, the athletic directors and the coaches need to have higher salaries. Not three or four times what the professors make, but perhaps 10 or 20 times as much. For they are the ones who keep the university from being completely bogged down in mental activity and feed the insatiable desires to win, win, win.

This is not to say that Mizzou and other universities are failures. Their nonathletic emphasis is on the move, and intellectual pursuits have been put in their proper — less important — place. But the general atmosphere of the campus, especially during mid-week, is too dull, too dead.

But fortunately, there are some far-looking leaders who are determined not to let this dullness grow. In time institutions of “higher learning” may lose their clinging reputation as places where students learn, think, debate and research. Universities may someday blend nicely into the Disneyland that is becoming America. Hurrah for social adaptation. Hurrah for Mizzou and down with the University of Missouri. Long may the Tiger roar!

Merrill, a professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism, has written and taught around the world and here in Columbia for more than 25 years.

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