Monday, July 19, 2010

In Defense of Calvin College

A couple of weeks ago I went to the bar with a friend and met up with his sister and a co-worker of his.  During the course of conversation it was brought up that I would be attending graduate school for urban planning, something my friend's sister though was pretty cool as did his co-worker.

Having a few drinks, the co-worker decided to rant to me a little about dumb street design and poor planning from the last few decades, which I heartily joined in on.  He wondered how I got into the whole urban planning thing, especially for someone from Calvin College, so I told him about being a geography major and taking an introductory course in planning while at Calvin.

This happened to be when the conversation shifted a little.  Having apparently attended Calvin for a while, the co-worker was surprised Calvin offered a planning course, and made the quick conclusion that it was probably one of the few good classes the college offers (he took philosophy classes).

His distaste for Calvin continued to be shown by talking about how Calvin abandoned it's campus in the city for the suburban real estate it currently occupies.  In some ways I agree with those sentiments, but we shouldn't direct the heat solely upon the school.

Calvin had grown beyond what the old campus could sustain and badly needed to undergo some kind of expansion.  Given that fact, they expanded to a location where the land was available.  We shouldn't fault them on jumping at such an opportunity, especially since suburbanization was the name of the game when these events took place.  It was not the school, but rather an entrenched societal ideal that came more into play.  Also worth mentioning is the fact that the former campus "in the city" was almost outside of the city.

To look back with disgust, I think, is inappropriate.  Instead, we should look at what is happening in the present and for the future.  Progress is happening.

Calvin has increased its presence in the downtown area with the creation of the (106) South Division Art Gallery.  The school has also begun to subsidize bus rides on the Rapid making them cheaper for students.  Unfortunately, there are many complaints to these.  The main one I see is that Calvin is not doing enough and should be doing more, such as fully subsidizing the Rapid so it is free and not just cheap.  I'm in the camp that says Calvin should do more too, but we can't just complain.  I think it really boils down to the administration and policy makers moving slowly and cautiously, which in many ways is quite admirable.  A lot of thought has to go into such decisions.

I also don't think we should compare Calvin to Grand Valley.  A lot of the arguments for making the Rapid free center on the fact that GVSU does it for their students.  Many differences should be noted.  First, GVSU is much larger than Calvin, although this is probably not that important in the grand scheme.  Next, there is actually a legitimate reason to offer free service to GVSU students: they have a campus downtown and often take classes there and out in Allendale and need a way to get between campuses easily.  Calvin doesn't have that issue.  Most students either live on campus or nearby, so there is no necessary reason to give free rides.  The closet comparison to Calvin would be Aquinas.  Aquinas only has one campus, albeit closer into town, and they offer a discounted rate of 40 cents.  This is comparable to Calvin's 50 cent fares.

Other reasons abound for Calvin (and Aquinas) to hop on board with free fares, and I would love to see that happen.  I think it is most important to realize that people at Calvin actually care about these kind of issues and some progress is evident.  It is also important to continue to pursue various avenues and push for quicker implementation of positive policies.

Finally, we should be grateful for what Calvin is as a respectable educational institution that is actually moving (however slowly) into greater harmony with the city.  At least we're not Davenport, who just recently abandoned their downtown campus for one out in the sticks by M-6.

Rant out. Good night.


  1. Free bus rides are great, let me tell you.

  2. Oh, I can't wait for them in Ann Arbor.

  3. Grand Valley adds the bus fare onto tuition costs. I think more people complain about the rising cost of going to school than the extra 50 cents for the bus twice a week for 9 weeks... I don't think all blame/praise can be put on the schools themselves, but in the way everyone from students to the city itself work together. Even if Calvin offered free bus fare, that doesn't mean the students will necessarily take advantage of it...