• How UNI Has Changed: Happy Homecoming

    • Posted on Oct 16, 2005


    Happy Homecoming to UNI alumni, faculty, staff, and supporters world-wide. 

    Those who actually return this weekend to their Cedar Falls alma mater will find that it looks about the same: Baker/Lang/Seerley/Bartlett/Campbell/Lawther/Wright/Sabin Halls still stand, as does that glorious Campanile, giving the campus its endearing and enduring appeal.

    However, those looks deceive. It’s not the same place, really, and now well into my 38th year teaching there, I speak from experience. 

    First and least, there’s the on-campus cuisine. In the old days it was cafeteria food, pure and simple. Then fast-food franchises arrived, and burgers and fries filled students in the Union for years.  Now it’s a complex mix of coffeehouses, smoothie-yogurt cafes, pizza/Chinese/Italian/California offerings that are expensive compared to the old days, but much better.  Eating at “Piazza” in the Redeker Center compares favorably to any restaurant in town.  Students don’t complain about cafeteria food any more, since there isn’t any. 

    Then the student body.  It has changed radically, both in size and behavior. The number of on-campus students has increased by over fourfold since the sixties and seventies, hovering close to 13,000 now, from around three thousand in the sixties.  One can get lost in the crowds these days on campus, and sidewalks, classes, and the Union can be as crowded as subways.  Once upon a time, UNI students knew practically everyone, at least by sight. 

    As a rule, those students now work and imbibe far more than students did when it was Iowa State Teachers College, or the State College of Iowa, or even early UNI in the mid-sixties.  Tuition cost thousands now instead of hundreds, so students and their parents struggle to keep up with expenses.  Many of them work twenty to thirty hours a week, and carry heavy class loads besides. They often look bleary-eyed to me, probably from long hours at work plus occasional all-nighters with their friend Al Cohol.   

    The UNI faculty has changed too.  No more orators, as was Professor Josef Fox in his heyday. Nobody could hold students spellbound like that grand old master teacher with his thundering humanities and philosophy lectures.   Same with John Eiklor, even in his huge TV classes.  Formal lectures have given way to facilitated discussions and informal conversations highlighted with Powerpoint presentations.  Thoroughly professional.

    And what has become of the beloved eccentrics on campus?  Extinct, that’s what.  Professors legendary for their brilliance and off-kilter mannerisms have gone the way of the dodo.  Louise Forest comes to mind, with her Old English Sheep dogs, which she bred, raised, and sold.  She worked out of a cave of clutter, a.k.a. an office, and offered utterly captivating classes on Shakespeare.

    Alums still remember Professor Forest for helping them both feel and think about the bard in ways that transcended mere knowledge. We have not seen her like again. 

    Last and most, there’s the feel of the place, the ambience, the heart and soul of the university as it now stands.  Here’s where UNI has changed the most, as have all universities in America since the sixties.  It’s no longer a small operation with a benevolent, small central administration on a first name basis with everyone, running everything.  They loved their little college, and it loved them back.   

    It’s now a large, complex institution, with multiply funded institutes, programs, initiatives, a faculty Union, colleges and University Senates, administrators and assistant administrators, and meetings, meetings, and more meetings.  The most highly-paid folks on campus spend their workdays in meetings, on the phone, and on e-mail.  Minutes from meetings now zap around campus via-e-mail like electrical storms.

    Except in these meetings, faculty rarely see much of each other. There’s no central lunch or coffee-room other than tables in the Union, and most spend their time in their offices, in the library, or on their computers. 

    Taking time for long discussions of anything over coffee or lunch with colleagues has long ago given way to electronic chatting (woe to those old-timers who shun computers) and quick hallway conversations.

    In short, where UNI was once a small-time family-like operation, it’s now more corporate, more business-like, more predictable, and yes, more professional.

    And far less exciting.





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