I attended the UW-Madison from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s - an era when protests, teach-ins, be-ins and the occasional full-scale riot were part of the campus experience.
The noise emanating from the students was matched by that from the biggest construction initiative the campus had ever seen, as the baby boomers entered college. During this period the university built some of its largest, most imposing structures, including Van Hise Hall, the Humanities Building, Vilas Hall, Van Vleck Hall and Helen C. White Hall.
Today, it may seem as though history is repeating itself. Stroll through the heart of campus, and you'll find yourself in one massive construction site that encompasses work on the Chazen Museum of Art, the Chadbourne and Barnard dorms, the Education building, Sterling Hall, the old University Hospital, Washburn Observatory, the new Discovery Center, one of the buildings on Henry Mall and the new Union South.
And these are only the most notable of 22 current projects that will collectively cost half a billion dollars. The prevailing color on the UW-Madison campus today is blaze orange: orange cones, orange barrels, orange signs, orange fencing, orange barricades. It's the UW's very own orange revolution.
Forty years ago, everyone knew why the building boom was happening: enrollments were exploding and the university was flush with revenue. What's the excuse today, when enrollment has been relatively constant for the last two decades and we're in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression?
Let's examine one of the UW's bevy of projects, the new Union South (for more information, consult the Wikipedia entry for "Boondoggle"). When completed, this $95 million extravaganza, complete with rock-climbing wall, will take up an entire city block.
It's been claimed that replacing the old Union South was necessary because it was "underutilized." Only administrators adept at spending other people's money could convince themselves this is a valid reason for demolishing a perfectly serviceable building a little more than 30 years old.
While the new Union South is the most egregious and indefensible of the colossi rising on the UW campus, it should prompt taxpayers, students and their parents to demand a more thorough accounting of how their money is spent. The university's current administrators seem to have an Olympian disregard for whether these grandiose projects are needed, and how much they cost.
Like many others, I believed the reign of the pharaohs at UW-Madison might finally be drawing to a close with the appointment of a new chancellor. Yet in the year since Biddy Martin was hired, the monuments to administrative egotism have continued to reach for the clouds.
By far the biggest enabler of this trend is Alan (The Jackhammer) Fish, long-term vice chancellor for facilities planning, the man who never saw a building he didn't want to tear down. The top items on his current hit list are the Humanities Building, Van Vleck and Van Hise.
At this rate, the university's architectural history will be forever limited to the handful of buildings on Bascom Hill. Few know that the Red Gym, nowadays regarded as a campus landmark second only to Bascom Hall, was very nearly demolished in the 1960s. Why? The usual excuses: Outdated. Inefficient. Underutilized. Thank God this was before Alan Fish's time.
If one were to chart the building boom on the UW campus over the last two decades (culminating in this year's frenzy), that line would run parallel to another: the rise in tuition and fees.
To absorb the staggering cost of the new Union South, annual student fees at Madison will rise to more than $1,000. Recently, UW System President Kevin Reilly announced that undergraduate in-state tuition would increase to above $8,000 per year.
"We'd love to have no tuition increase at all," he added. "In reality, however, that is not an option." Thanks for explaining that, Kev.
While demanding that students pay more, administrators expect faculty and staff to get by with less, rescinding their promised pay raise (a paltry 2%) and acquiescing to the state's demand that they take 16 furlough days over the next two years.
Meanwhile, the UW is increasing class size, restricting availability of programs, and looking on complacently as students are crippled with educational debt - all so that the university's potentates can have ever more lavish venues over which to preside. Term limits for college administrators, anyone?
The slogan of the revolution used to be: "Don't trust anyone over 30." Now it seems to be: "Don't spare any building over 30."
It's time for students, faculty and staff fed up with subsidizing administrators' addiction to bricks and mortar to man the barricades. At least this time around, we won't have to build them - they're already there, in a brilliant shade of orange.
Gary L. Kriewald, who earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees at the UW-Madison, has lived on and off in Madison for more than 20 years. He teaches English at UW-Platteville.