It is quite rare to come across a University President whose background is in architecture and campus planning. Therefore, we are extremely excited to have James F. Barker, President of Clemson University and Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (FAIA) as our Opening Keynote Speaker at our 10th Annual Campus Development Summit in April.
Located in a picturesque lakeside town in South Carolina, Clemson University is a top-ranked national public university which has been recognized for excellent value and overall quality of life.
As the president of a major institution serving 19,000 students each year, Jim personally understands the significance of campus development in enhancing the overall student experience. He has witnessed the evolution of the campus before his very eyes, hailing as a Clemson student, graduate, professor and now University President. Additionally, every spring Jim is part of a team which teaches a class on ‘sense of place’ relating to architecture and history.
Jim recently shared with us his vision, mission and insight around campus development:
Tracy Lai: You’ve been part of Clemson University since graduating as an architecture student in 1970, and watched the campus evolve since then. Now as University President, what is the significance for you of a physical campus?
There has been a great deal of discussion in the media and among educators about how students learn. What is the environment for students to do their best work and learn at their maximum capability? Many of those voices are saying that online education – in which students are removed from their classmates and professors – is less expensive and just as effective as place-based learning. Also, they suggest that we need to rethink the whole idea of a campus as the cost of college has grown.
It’s a good moment to ponder those questions and ask – what is the value of a sense of place, a sense of community, in a student’s education?
Without discounting the real value of distance education or online education, I would be a voice that would say it’s not even close. Having a physical place that engages the student, in ways beyond just the classroom, is by far the superior way for students to learn.
Now, it helps if that place is beautiful, because it attracts people to it. It helps if that place is inspiring in its design and the way it helps students run into each other in the contact sport that is college. It helps if you have faculty members and staff members who are as engaged as students are. So you have to have the right attitude. But a college campus attracts the kind of people who are seeking that kind of place, because it works and it’s worth it.
We have built a strong sense of community on our campus. Clemson University will be one of the universities which adapts to new technology and changing student needs and will thrive in the coming decades.
TL: What are some of the ways Clemson is reaching campus planning goals, based on current challenges?
‘Partnership’ and ‘collaboration’ are two of the most important words in our vocabulary. The State of South Carolina has not had a general bond bill for higher education capital facilities for more than a decade. To fund needed facilities and campus improvements, we rely increasingly on public/private partnerships, revenue bonds supported by student fees and private gifts. It requires a lot more creativity than it did a couple of decades ago.
TL: What role does the facilities administrator play in terms of sustainability and what is your outlook on sustainability at Clemson?
Buildings and facilities represent a huge investment in dollars and consume huge amounts of energy – about 70 percent of energy consumption by one estimate I’ve seen. If universities are in the ‘forever’ business, then it seems to me we have a special obligation around the concept of sustainability. We have the opportunity to test ideas about energy consumption, about design. Every campus preaches sustainability but the question is – what are we doing as universities to demonstrate that? Are our campuses serving as laboratories for passing on successes and failures to the larger community about what works? We have found that the U.S. Green Building Council LEED ratings are very valuable, because they can help keep you on track and are examples of the best practices that America is producing now. So eight years ago, in 2004, we decided that all new buildings and major renovations would have to meet LEED Silver certification at minimum. It’s been a great journey so far. We’ve been able to engage our students in this process. They are attracted to Clemson because we’ve made this commitment to sustainability and we can demonstrate that we practice what we preach.
TL: What is your approach to campus design in terms of meeting current and future needs at Clemson?
Being an architect and a university president is unusual. In some ways it’s a curse because I think about building design and how buildings do facilitate research and learning. As I mentioned earlier, we’re in the ‘forever’ business, so we can count on the fact that whatever the original purpose of the building was, it is probably not going to be that in the future. So don’t think about new buildings in such a way that we limit their ability to be transformed and used for a different purpose. That’s a tricky tightrope to put yourself on. If you don’t have a definite purpose, it’s hard to give a building a personality and a character that makes it belong on a university campus.
One thought that comes to me is that the charge given to architect ought to be about the next use of this building. Suppose this classroom building needs to add wet labs? How would that be done? Architects, if you give them that charge, can figure it out for you. It may cost you a little more in the beginning, but you can guarantee that the building is going to outlive its natural life. Think about any campus building that’s 60 or 70 or 80 years old. Most of them have had three lives – three purposes – three uses. So build that into the charge to the architect and say, “What if?” They ought to be able to answer that question, and it would be cost-effective in the long run.
President Barker will elaborate on his thoughts on sense of place within higher education during his keynote address, and we look forward to having him at the summit.
The 10th annual Campus Development Summit will take place in Palm Springs, California from April 1 -3, 2012. For more information and to register, please visit www.campusdevelopmentsummit.com.