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Least attractive campus: Seriously? Campus life, PR musings

DeerOn an after-work run around campus last night, I could see her head rise just a short distance ahead of me. A deer, not an uncommon sight, leapt from the woods and crossed Andrews Drive, where she paused. “Wait,” I thought, realizing another was likely to follow. Sure enough, a spotted baby deer emerged and followed mom into the wooded area on the other side.

I’m pleased that small moments like this still make an impression on me—a reminder of the good fortune I feel to work on a beautiful college campus. I try not to miss a moment to admire my surroundings. But on this occasion, it raised a perplexing question. “Why don’t RIT students seem to share my appreciation?”

I want to be careful to not offer a blanket observation, but my concern stems from the most recent “best colleges” edition released by The Princeton Review earlier this week, which bases its results on student surveys. Obviously, not every student gets to take part.Campus1

The good news is, once again, Rochester Institute of Technology is included among “the best.” But with it comes the annual thorn that also ranks us among the “least attractive campuses.” Since peeking at #2 back in 2002 (feeling a bit like Casey Kasem here), RIT has slowly worked its way down the “least attractive” top 20, actually placing at #20 last year. Surely our momentum would finally drop us off it this year. Nope, back up to #18.

I really don’t get it. It’s true that RIT lacks the ivy-covered exteriors that often represent the classic image for institutions of higher learning. But a significant investment in renovations and other improvements over recent years has really transformed this place, as evidenced by the photos taken by University News photographer Sue Weisler that I’ve sprinkled throughout my post.Campus2

This is hardly the same campus I came to work at in 2000, and it’s always a hoot to see the reaction of alumni who return following a prolonged absence. The sense of pride on their faces is often palpable.

So what is it that students, at least the ones The Princeton Review survey, see that I don’t—or don’t see that I do. I wish I had more basis for comparison. Thinking back, I’m kicking myself for not stopping at Bucknell University while driving past it last month on my way to Gettysburg. I guess I was just acting ‘stupidly,’ which, as we all know by now, qualifies me for a beer at the White House. Anyway, I wonder if some added perspective might prove insightful.Campus3

So, while I write this first and foremost as a public relations representative of the university, the passion with which I do so comes as an employee, alumnus and overall fan of RIT. And I know it’s a passion I share with so many others. Maybe we all just need to do a better job of voicing it.

Let’s start now! Please accept my invitation to share your observations here.

  1. Kevin
    Jul 31

    I'm with your perspective on this one. While RIT has been under all sorts of construction and landscape changes, it's definitely become an extremely beautiful campus. I thoroughly enjoy walking around campus and seeing the contrast of the red brick vs the green around campus. It's awesome. Do I think we belong as one of the "Least Attractive Campuses"? Not at all, I've seen much, much worse. RIT is beautiful.

  2. Brent S.
    Jul 31

    Saw this pop-up on Facebook... I really don't understand how students can complain so much about our campus! So there's lots of brick, wide open fields, new buildings, what's so wrong with that? I really think a lot of it comes down to our campus being "newer" than alot of other campuses as well as the word of mouth from students complaining, not their own opinions. Actually, it more likely that many of the students complaining are those that don't get out on campus anyways!

  3. Powers
    Jul 31

    I have little basis for comparison, either, but I do remember finding the institutional feel of RIT to be much more appealing than the "here's a bunch of buildings we shoved together" look of the University of Rochester.

  4. Chris Lauretano
    Jul 31

    While I think all of the 1960s buildings on campus look a bit Soviet, the newer stuff on campus is incredible looking. Having graduated last summer, I have yet to see new annex on the GCCIS building, but I hear it looks stunning. The field house, the update to the college of business, the GCCIS building, and the new quad that formed behind the college of engineering during my time at RIT were all quite beautiful. I love the brick/glass/metal look. Then again, I love pretty much all modern architecture.

    The campus itself though, it's a bit dreary still. The dorm buildings look like something you'd see in Chernobyl. Walk from the dorms to GCCIS, and aside from a small glimpse of the field house, you're walking past all original buildings, nothing even a little updated or refreshed. The infinity quad could definitely stand to be brightened up.

    Much of the faults I have with the campus actually stem from the climate. You can't really make former wetlands in cold, wet, and gloomy Rochester NY look like paradise. Since most of the year everything is covered with a thick blanket of snow, landscaping-wise it's mostly hardy bushes --not a lot of color.

  5. Vienna
    Jul 31

    Paul - Really enjoyed reading your latest post about the beautiful RIT campus. I have to admit that I, too, love seeing the deer as I drive through campus when heading home. If there isn't anyone behind me, I actually stop (or pull over) and watch for a few minutes. There's nothing like walking around RIT on a beautiful summer day—this place truly has changed for the better since I started working here nearly 12 years ago.

    But, I must admit, as a former student at SUNY Geneseo (another truly beautiful campus) I didn't appreciate my surroundings. The last thing I noticed when walking across the “tundra” (a walkway connecting residence halls with the main part of campus that is legendary for its whipping winds in the fall and winter) were the absolutely gorgeous views, brilliant sunsets and rolling hills. Perhaps with age comes the knowledge of taking time to appreciate beautiful surroundings.

  6. Lori
    Jul 31

    I've always loved being able to see the deers on campus-especially by Grace Watson! Gorgeous. I can remember times coming back to my apartment/dorm in the middle of the night and seeing the deers amongst the fog. Fabulous!

  7. Andrew
    Jul 31

    Great post Paul. Each day when I turn in off Jefferson Road I think about how fortunate I am to get to come to work in a park-like setting. A few of my favorites are the large trees at the main entrance, the willow tress near the Visitor Information Center and the Tojo Garden.

  8. sue
    Jul 31

    You hit a nerve with your latest post! The once stark campus has become quite beautiful with its dramatic architecture that's softened by gorgeous gardens. The wildlife that continues to thrive here is so sweet.

  9. Ron
    Jul 31

    Being an alumnus from RIT - I would have to agree that maybe 10 years ago it would have been up there close to the top as far as unattractive campuses are concerned! Looking around campus though and knowing we rank #18, I highly disagree with. Since starting as a Freshman in 1999 and looking at the campus today - RIT has come a long way. From the building that are not completely all brick any more to the beautiful gardens, the newly designed quads and the varied architecture, RIT is a place I am proud to say I work at and even more proud to say I am an RIT alum - GO TIGERS!!!!

  10. Vanessa Mazza
    Jul 31

    I think alot of people get a bad taste in their mouth from the RIT campus solely based on the fact that half of the year it is covered in snow, slush, and ice. Not the pretty kind. A bad taste is a bad taste, and it's easy for hate targeted at the weather to transfer over to hate targeted at the campus. I also think that the RIT campus (overall) lacks alot of curves, softness, subltely, and organic form that many often think of when they consider "beauty." I haven't been back in quite a few years, but it seems like this is beginning to get addressed in a real way. Way to go tigers! Grr!

  11. Cindee
    Jul 31

    Paul, I couldn't agree more. As I left the campus today, I saw a beautiful deer near the side of the road and actually stopped to watch. The campus is like a park, with wetlands, walking trails and yes there are many brick buildings, but they are surrounded by beautiful landscaping managed with pride by our Grounds crew. I also appreciate the quad spaces that have been created with curved walls, gardens and fanciful artwork benches. The sculptures that are artfully placed throughout campus also add to the ambiance and demonstrate the link between technology and art that makes our campus extraordinary--and yes, beautiful too.

  12. Chris
    Aug 03

    Vanessa gets the closest, but she misses an important point. Most of the RIT beautification has focused on landscaping. That makes a lot of sense, because it's cheaper than building and nature is universally enjoyable. I agree with some of the sentiment expressed here in that regard. During the early fall, but especially during the late spring RIT can be gorgeous. Unfortunately, those periods represent about one fifth of the academic year. The rest of the year all the plants die or go into hibernation. Then the ill-considered brick-box towers loom prison-like across the perpetually shadowed tundra. This is possibly why you get such vitriol from students, but not from visitors or employees. We're here precisely when the RIT campus transforms into the visual equivalent of a Russian gulag and we leave when the campus looks its best. Unfortunately, short of replacing buildings, I'm not sure what can be done to mitigate that. On the plus side, the new construction (GCCIS, the innovation center, and the SAU renovation) is markedly nicer. The walkway between the Clarks was a singularly depressing entry, and someone was very bright to consider replace it with a positive.

  13. William Dube
    Aug 05

    As someone who attended an inner city college for my undergrad, Northeastern University in Boston, I especially appreciate the green space and wooded areas that adorn RIT. Nice post Paul!

  14. Mike
    Aug 05

    I think people recognize that RIT has been developing new buildings with aesthetics in mind along with the standard functionality and the ever so popular red brick we've come to know. However, if you look at the overall layout of our campus it’s a bit more obvious why we lack the beauty that other University's have. Our campus in its center (the 1/4 mile) is completely surrounding by buildings. The small Zen gardens and plants here and there do not make up for the tiny brick paved walk ways between towering brick buildings. Most Universities have buildings more spread out from one another with enormous long grassy knolls, ponds, and other water features. We have a few but they are closer to the roads and rarely do people see and appreciate them. Until the campus spreads out, students will fail to appreciate the nice upstate NY environment.

  15. Melissa
    Aug 05

    When I was a student here in the 1980s, this ranking would have been accurate. I have frequently commented to others as I have been walking around campus on what a wonderful job RIT Grounds has done with landscaping and plantings. As a gardner I enjoy and appreciate them, and often stop for a moment to study a plant. RIT has come a long way upgrading the appearance of the campus. I do wish that Grounds could label the plants as there have been some I admired but am unfamiliar with and would like to purchase!

  16. Justin
    Aug 06

    I also agree that RIT is a beautiful campus. I have seen many universities in person, through summer camps and visits. There is a local community college where I live, as well as a larger local college. I have been to: Mohawk Valley Community College, Utica College, Hamilton College (an Ivy Leave School) , University of Maryland, Nazareth, Geneseo, Le Moyne, Syracuse University, University of Rochester, NYU, Monroe Community College, Ithaca, and of course RIT. I'm not trying to be one of those "I've seen more universities than you" kids, I am simply stating by example that I have seen plenty to judge from, and I would say that RIT is indeed a beautiful campus. It has a unique look to it because it is a "brick city," not something you generally see at other universities.

  17. Paul
    Aug 06

    Many thanks for all the great comments. Regardless of where you fall in regards to this debate, it's great to see a community that cares so much about this campus and its potential.

  18. Michy
    Aug 07

    I think RIT has a wonderful campus. The new buildings are a great addition. But RIT needs to step up their game when it comes to the library, for such an institution our library lacks a lot. Comparing our library to University of Rochester, we are failing to serve the atheistic environment in one of the most recognizable buildings when looking at a college campus.

  19. Tom
    Aug 11

    I'd love to see a parking garage so people don't have to walk such long distances in bad weather. And I never understood why they can't link the tunnels under the dorms with the tunnels under the academic area via a tunnel under the Quarter Mile. If they ever do such projects, I'm sure they'll be nicely designed and landscaped, as I'm an '80s alum who agrees with the comments above, RIT has come a long way baby.

  20. Mary Johnson
    Aug 28

    I definitely have to disagree with the ranking too.
    Just view this video and as President Destler states come back and see it with your own eyes...

    This is a really great video showcasing all the newest additions to RIT in the last 10 years.
    Conversations with President Destler (Video 6)
    In the sixth in a series of videos, RIT President Bill Destler gives a walking tour of the RIT campus.


  21. Allison
    Sep 01

    I hope "the man" at RIT realizes the importance of keeping deer on our campus. Otherwise, I have a feeling that it's only a few years before they clear the woods for more buildings, like they did for Park Point.

  22. Matt
    Sep 15

    I love the brtualistic-style of RIT, and I wouldn't have it any other way. It looks powerful, functional, and modern. It makes me feel like getting things done. Most college campuses look like they belong in another, washed away and preoccupied with former greatness.
    I realize that I'm likely not the majority, but RIT's look was a big positive for me.

  23. Mark Anthony Go
    Sep 18

    Hello, I am writing this comment to the Tigerbeat blog to say that it’s great to be able to communicate to RIT through the Internet. I graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology in the Spring Quarter of 2002. I am also featured in the Spring Quarter issue of the Reporter Magazine in the “word on the street” section. If anyone wants to find me, I’m on www.myspace.com/hotsteppermark. I’m in Santa Monica, California. Have a great day.

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