At long last, John and I finally went down the waterslide. The waterslide is a main feature of the recent renovations to CRCE, the recreation center on the campus's east side. Apparently the Illinois students who voted to raise their own activity fees to enable these renovations, also got to vote on the shape of the renovations. They were offered the following choices: 1) extended hours of operation (more workout time); 2) more treadmills and elliptical machines (less waiting), or 3) an aquatic center with no lanes for swimming, but instead a shallow pool with a volleyball net, a water basketball goal, a volcano fountain, palm trees, a hot tub and, you guessed it, a big fat water slide (more sliding).
We'd been daring each other to try out the slide for some time, and so today after our workouts, we met in the aquatic center, and each solemnly took our turn. In the hot tub afterward, John finally gave voice to what we have both been thinking--and I'm sure we're not alone--from the moment we first glimpsed the monstrous indoor slide: "That slide reflects all the developments in higher education over the past 10 years."
A recent survey of Illinois grads showed that "recreational opportunities" topped their list of campus positives--as well it should. Most of this renovation and new construction happened while we were away at Pittsburgh, and so the transformation seems all the more dramatic to us. When we came back, John kept marveling about how in our absence the campus had turned into a giant cruise ship floating over corn fields.
The university should really make more use of this water slide, perhaps marking all milestones from admission to graduation to faculty promotions with a trip down the slide. The chancellor, we decided, could wait at the bottom with speedos and a high five.
It's true that the slide holds all kinds of significance beyond its metaphorical downward spiral. It also signifies the increased competition among schools for tuition money, which is rising like the stairs to get to the top of the slide. The results, documented in Murray Sperber's Beer and Circus and Frontline's slide-like named documentary Declining by Degrees, include more money spent on visible glitzy recreational facilities like CRCE, and less spent on classroom facilities and faculty lines, which are of course being slowly replaced by cheaper adjunct and graduate student labor. (Locals will want to check out the labor in the humanities panel John has organized over at IPRH next Tuesday. No sliding, however, until the IPRH building expansion in 2009.)
To those of us in higher ed, these trends aren't of course news, and many of us have also learned the lesson John was reminded of on today's trip down the slide: you go faster if you lie down and go with the flow rather than sitting up and looking around.