NU’s New Visitors Center is a Waste of Money

The planned visitors center is the building on the lower left, on the beach.

By Charles Rollet

(This article was featured in our print issue, which was published on Nov. 10, 2012.)

The last time I wrote about Northwestern’s planned visitors center, I urged the Evanston city council to stop it from being built. Unfortunately, the council gave Northwestern the go-ahead and we will soon have a highly unnecessary visitors center. The building costs $32 million, and will be used for tour groups, visitors and their families, etc.- as if they weren’t dealt with just as well beforehand.

The visitors center exemplifies Northwestern’s faddish commitment to style over substance. Rather than build a student center – which would be used by current students, rather than prospective ones – we are “investing” tens of millions into a glorified box on stilts.


Not to mention a $2.5 million “boathouse,” used by Lord-knows-who, all on one of campus’ few wild areas. This being part of a $151 million redevelopment scheme of southeast campus.

I didn’t apply to Club Med- I applied to a proper university. As a junior (and someone wholly uninterested in boating) I will never use these multi-million dollar facilities- and neither will the vast majority of students. What’s next? A “state-of-the-art” dorm with built-in iPad docking stations in every room? Or perhaps an ecologically-friendly Center for Students Who Can’t Decide Whether to go to Brown or Northwestern?

If the administration stopped constantly “investing” in “state-of-the-art” boathouses and visitors centers, maybe it wouldn’t need to hike tuition by several thousand dollars every year. The Atlantic recently covered this phenomenon of universities binging on largely unnecessary structures.

It showcased Stephen Trachterberg’s 19-year-long stay as the president of George Washington University, and how the man started the now-widespread trend of constructing fancy facilites to compete with similarly-ranked universities. During his tenure, Trachterberg built computer labs, plush dorms, and cafes all over. All were described as “state-of-the-art.”

But were they necessary? Does a person attending GW today get a better education than she did 20 years ago? Doubtful. The only real change is GW’s tuition, which has doubled since 1987 in real terms.

Considering Morty has said he has no problems with tuition being over $100,000 by 2025, expect a lot more “visitors centers” in the future.


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