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Distributed Campuses

26 May Posted by in Business | Comments Off on Distributed Campuses

The first performance weekend of Mason’s new Hylton Performing Arts Center, plus the imminence of other new buildings in Prince William and Arlington, calls new attention to our distributed campus system. Fairfax is of course our largest campus — I was successfully instructed when I sought the job here that we never refer to it as our main campus — but it is currently one of three major locations in the region. The truly spectacular new Prince William campus theater, plus the new laboratory about to open there and then, in the fall, the huge new academic building (Founders Hall) in Arlington, not only remind us that there are additional locations but signal the growing importance of these locations as well. More will be going on outside of Fairfax, and I frankly hope that even Fairfax-based faculty, staff and students will want some active encounter with these other locations. (Anyone who does not go out to see the Hylton is missing a real aesthetic treat.)

The distributed campus concept, of course, seeks an active alternative to the more familiar branch campus model. Rather than offering just versions of Fairfax programs in additional sites — though this occurs to some extent — with distributed campuses we deliberately locate some of our primary operations in each campus, serving the University overall. Further, we do not establish separate academic administrations but seek to unite activities in all three locations under single umbrellas. It’s not an easy system to pull off, and inter-campus coordination and awareness remain challenges. While Arlington will become even more clearly the law and policy center, there must be active intellectual as well as administrative links with Fairfax, and ditto with the life sciences at Prince William. With further growth, and worse traffic, active integration will doubtless become more difficult, not less. And the prospect of yet-additional sites, notably in Loudoun, could complicate even more.

Still, the vigor of each major campus and their collectivity has much to recommend it. Campuses have different sizes and specialties, but not the kind of pecking order than might downgrade student experience or faculty morale. The system is easier to work in concept than in actuality, but there’s every reason to keep trying. And we certainly wouldn’t want more provosts than we already have.