View from the Ivory Tower

There’s a discussion going on within the editorial department about how the university can best serve the people, and it’s symbolized by the university’s proposed lease-to-purchase of the Community Development building on Sinclair Street. That lease is supposed to “give the University of Nevada, Reno a downtown Reno presence and provide a convenient location for business- and community-oriented outreach services,” according to the university’s website.

The first side of the argument says that the university has been failing in its responsibility to collaborate in the local community, to work with local groups to elevate the quality of life in the Truckee Meadows, and that it is literally and metaphorically separate from the community. The university must move into the community and lose its ivory tower status.

The second side says that UNR taking over the Sinclair Street building will not move the campus closer to the community. It will move the campus closer to the business community, to money and power. The campus will become more ivory tower, not less. Powerbrokers who already have too much say over higher education policy will be even more influential on campus priorities.

Further, if the city has an unused office building downtown, it needs to sell it off to private parties so that businesses will use it for office space or other commercial purposes, contributing to revival of the downtown instead of further draining it with another government property. The Reno City Council needs to kill the deal with the university, and the university needs to shrink, not expand. That will also revive the late UNR president Milton Glick’s vision of reducing the campus footprint by building up instead of out.

The first side says having a physical presence networked into the community—more like an octopus than its current “node” structure—will increase interaction with all aspects of the community, not just the power structure. This side of the argument would go as far as to build a dormitory in one of the closed properties downtown, like the old Virginian Hotel, which would add to the university’s growth without further decreasing parking, increasing traffic and negatively affecting the area around the university. And even further, through increased engagement, the university can put its scholars’ particular skills to use—like engineering or technology—to consider and help solve shared problems like crosswalk safety or traffic light synchronization.

Each of these sides has a common point: UNR does not adequately address the needs of the common community in Reno. As a land grant institution, serving the needs of the community—not just the business community—is a mandate.

And one additional aside: It would be nice if local journalism entities had scrutinized this deal instead of, as in the case of KTVN News, simply posting the UNR press release on its website.