Most students have probably noticed the side of the parking garage on 34th Street slowly being covered with red paint — hiding the orange, one brick at a time. It’s all part of President John A. Fry’s master plan to transform our campus; he wants the buildings to have a more cohesive feel. This apparently involves painting over individual bricks, using miniature paint rollers so that the mortar’s color isn’t compromised. On Oct. 31, men could be seen slowly covering the bricks on the Mandell Theater exterior with gray paint — painting different shades of gray in a very particular pattern.
Drexel is a multimillion-dollar university, and we have our administration not only buying brick-sized paint rollers but also paying people to use them to cover up our orange bricks — a painfully slow manual task. While it’s probably not draining our budget to pay a few people to change the colors of our buildings, it’s a shame that we have to spend any money at all on such a silly project.
The colors of the bricks aren’t going to change what goes on inside the buildings, and everyone at Drexel knows that. The value of our education and the value of our degrees doesn’t depend on the physical appearance of our campus. The teaching and research that is contained in these buildings isn’t being tainted or polluted by the tacky orange bricks.
As much as we’d like to say that this is a totally worthless investment, we must regretfully acknowledge that it could yield some benefit for the University. Prospective students want to be part of a campus that looks aesthetically pleasing, and it’s possible that some might make their final decision based on such a factor. However, efforts to make campus more aesthetically pleasing ought to be less superficial. Painting bricks red will make them look better in the short term, but exterior paint can wear off, and repaintings will be frequent and embarrassing. Perhaps Drexel could consider simply doing exterior restoration and cleaning rather than simply painting over slightly dated brick. Photographs of campus from the ‘60s show a cohesive, unified campus of orange-brick buildings that was actually quite pleasing to the eye. There’s no reason that the campus couldn’t look like that today, except for the crowding of the center of campus with neobrutalist edifices like Gerri C. LeBow Hall and the Papadakis Integrated Sciences Building. The University should focus on more permanent ways to beautify campus rather than buying a few cans of paint.
But more importantly, it makes no sense to let one’s college choice be influenced more by building exteriors than by cost or quality of education. Alas, many high school seniors do not have their priorities in order, and there’s not much that anyone can do to change that on a national level any time soon. Maybe it’s time to reassess some of our cultural values. What can we do differently to encourage prospective college students to value practicality over looks when choosing a college? How can a university’s marketing team keep enrollment at a desirable level while challenging the status quo in ways that seek to improve society but might not attract students?
Paint is a temporary solution to what really amounts to a subjectively perceived problem. This change seems like a “quick fix” because that’s exactly what it is. The University believes the outer image of our buildings is impeding us from becoming the amazing university we are capable of being. While it may unconsciously deter some students from attending Drexel, seeing men spending time and money painting bricks one at a time may deter just as many for different reasons. We suggest that the University spend its time on less superficial changes, such as significant updates to dated classrooms, labs or library collections. In the end, some prospective students may make decisions based on artificial characteristics of Drexel, but maybe those who would choose their college based on its bricks are not those we would like as our peers.