Blast from the Past: The Smocks versus the jocks

Published 10/3/1986
Author: Karin Swisher

The buildings that make up Lawrence are of many different vintages, as would be expected of a 169-year-old school. However, due to the range of ages of the school’s facilities, there is a constant need for renovation, improvement, or replacement of various buildings. Thus, a debate constantly rages as to what facility has the greatest need for improvement. Athletic facilities are a hot-button topic in this debate. As a university, Lawrence’s main purpose is the education of its students. However, to many, collegiate athletics is a fundamental part of the college experience. As Lawrence continues to improve its campus facilities, what priority should be given to athletics?

If you were a prospective student, a trustee, or even an alum, what would you see on a tour of this campus that would impress you? Would it be the residence halls? Would it be the art center? Would it be the library? I think not. I think it would be the not-yet-year-old Recreation Center and the not-yet-month-old renovated Alexander Gymnasium.
What kind of image does the school present to those people both on and off campus alike? I believe the message the school offers is one that pampers its athletes and neglects academics. This contradicts the reality of Division III: no sports scholarships and little fan support. This also contradicts the idea that Lawrence is primarily an academic institution. Has the administration chosen to abandon its liberal arts emphasis?
The Alexander Gymnasium could have been left for a short time in order to build a new art center. In the battle of the smocks against the jocks, the smocks lost to the glamour and prestige of athletics. The Recreation Center offers many new opportunities for students who would never have gotten to Alexander. However, to abolish the physical education requirement just when the Recreation Center was completed is another contradiction.
Other aspects of the campus need attention. Is having the largest indoor pool in Wisconsin more important than having an adequate place for artists and historians to learn their subject? The library, one of the best in the Associated Colleges of the Midwest system still lacks funding to purchase books students need in their liberal arts careers. The professors could even be paid more. I wonder how many outstanding professors have been unable to accept jobs here because they could not afford it.
Other alternatives include improving the theater department and the food service, giving students decent places to live, or even buying more computers. I think the administration should weigh the priorities. If the alumni giving money want a sports facility, should they be pacified at the expense of current and future students?
Does this school really need the superfluous surface attraction of stunning sports facilities? There are so many less glamorous, but more appreciated methods to give this school the solid, academic, liberal arts reputation it deserves.