Saturday, July 10, 2010

Western State College, or, the Novosibirsks of American academia could be worse

Gunnison, Colorado — where I've been staying for the past week — is also home to Western State College, a public 4-year liberal arts college. Wandering around the campus the other day (which runs up against a park the kids & their cousins were playing in), it occurred to me that had I pursued the Ph.D. I supposedly entered graduate school to achieve, I likely would have ended up in a place very much like this.

I think probably anyone who enters graduate school in an academic discipline, with the intention of becoming a professor, at some level at least secretly harbors fantasies of teaching at a prestigious institution — maybe not Harvard or Yale or Princeton, but at least a major research university like the Universities of Wisconsin or Texas or so forth — and doing important research. If you're interested in changing the world and not just studying it, you want to be Robin D.G. Kelley or Peter Rachleff — or at least in a large urban area where there are movement institutions you can be part of, or a celebrity supporter of, etc.

The reality, though, is that most folks are going to end up in out-of-the-way places like Gunnison, political action limited to an Obama bumper sticker and buying organic vegetables at the farmers' market, desperately trying to engage ill-prepared students in the excitement of, say, labor history, knowing full well that even those you reach are going to slip back into the miasma of American anti-intellectualism as soon as they are out of school.

* * *

That said, Western State appears, like Gunnison, quite charming — it could certainly be worse. What I presume are the original buildings have a kind of nice stucco and slightly Spanish architecture to them:

Like most college campuses, there are some unattractive blocks built during the 60s expansion of higher education:

No college is complete without a brand spanking new student center built in 90s bland-o-rific style:

And, most importantly, a billboard advertising new building projects:

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