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The College as Campus (Review)

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Chapman's book is distinguished by his emphasis on how higher education fits within society, figuratively and literally. His thesis is that American higher education has from its inception conceptually positioned itself in relation to the natural landscape and urbanity.


The posting below is a review by Patrick Dilley, associate professor of higher education and qualitative research at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, of the book American Places: In Search of the Twenty-first Century Campus, M. Perry Chapman. Westport, Conn.: Praeger Publishers, 2006. It appeared in the March-April, 2008, Volume 94, Number 2 issue of Academe Online [] the bulletin of the American Association of University Professors. 1012 Fourteenth Street, NW, Suite #500; Washington, DC 20005. Copyright ©2008 American Association of University Professors. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

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The College as Campus (Review)


It is human nature to believe that our past experiences apply to new situations and environments. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that many faculty members refer to their time in college when they attempt to make sense of their working environments. Misunderstandings, however, can occur when faculty find themselves employed in institutions unlike those in which they studied. When that happens, they will inevitably have to search for a better guide than previous experience to understand differences among campuses, their missions, histories, and environments.

They might want to start with American Places: In Search of the Twenty-first Century Campus by M. Perry Chapman, which provides a good overview of the different forms of higher education in the United States. If academic "fit" is indeed a match between individual faculty members and their places of employment, this book will certainly help new faculty understand the character and nature of the campuses on which they might find themselves employed. At the very least, academics and campus leaders without extensive experience of U.S. higher education will gain insight into how different types of institutions developed, how their missions differ, and how physical campuses can reflect the nature or character of institutions.

Chapman examines college campuses according to several schema: in terms of their narrative history, as places of experience for students and faculty, as intentionally defined and delimited communities, as physical works of art, and as bridges to a more connected and enlightened citizenship. If the mission of American higher education is to advance the ideals of a better, more civil society, then the campus must be the living, material embodiment of those ideals. Each institution interprets those ideals as part of its educational mission and defines how they should be reflected in life and in the locales the institution serves.

Chapman's analysis is strongest when he examines the historical development of individual campuses in terms of their missions, student populations, and physical design. Readers will no doubt find that their own undergraduate campus resembles one of Chapman's institutional vignettes. Over seven chapters, he focuses on seven kinds of institutions, from independent liberal arts colleges, public flagship universities, and mid-sized state institutions in rural settings to large urban universities that serve "nontraditional" populations and civic needs. In many of his descriptions, he waxes nostalgic, effectively capturing the spirit of the students and the leaders. He is less effective when he attempts to predict the impact of digital distance education and the demand for colleges to address the nontraditional, lifelong learning needs of a society whose members will change jobs more frequently than in the past.

Chapman's book is distinguished by his emphasis on how higher education fits within society, figuratively and literally. His thesis is that American higher education has from its inception conceptually positioned itself in relation to the natural landscape and urbanity. Whether one side of the quad was open to town or facing a tree-lined hill, American college campuses were shaped by distinctly American notions about the social place of higher education-and the placement of higher education-that have changed over the past three hundred years. "Despite popular notions (and the insistence of many academics) that the campus should be an intellectual ivory tower, the American version has always been a working part of the world around it," Chapman writes. One of his conclusions is that there is room-indeed, a need-for different kinds of institutions of higher education in contemporary society. Chapman emphasizes the "civic relationship that U.S. campuses have with their communities, regions, and states, indeed with the nation and the world."

Yet despite their different purposes, missions, and student populations, all American colleges should promote an ethic of place through their campuses, Chapman argues. Such an ethic should be based on global ecological sustainability, regional authenticity (in terms of nature and architecture), and community, both on and beyond the campus. In some ways, he matches form with function in relation to the contours of history, geography, and social space.

Chapman is impressed by how Northeastern University integrated its service-learning mission into the civic life and the topography of Boston. He freely admits his preference for its model of social involvement-the way it conceived of its campus within the physical confines of the city in order to better serve its student population. (Richard Freeland, the president of Northeastern, wrote the foreword to American Places.)

Chapman is an architect and planner by training, and he occasionally relies on his technical knowledge to explain his understandings, particularly in relation to the physical layout of campuses. He draws heavily on notions familiar to those who study higher education (the ideas behind Thomas Jefferson's design for the University of Virginia, for example) as well as on the field of campus architecture (Frederick Law Olmsted's work). For readers lacking his design background, more illustrations-examples of the spatial axes of campus design or of the decorative or structural concepts that particular buildings exemplify-would have helped to demonstrate his ideas. Even so, Chapman offers much for academics to learn about the connections between the histories, missions, physical structures, and populations that constitute the enterprise of American higher education.