Sunday, June 01, 2008

Sustaining AU's Infrastructure: unexciting, but essential

Most of AU’s students have departed for summer activities. These range from the exotic - assisting earthquake victims in rural China - to the prosaic - checking out groceries at a local supermarket near home.  Our campus is no longer invigorated with the vitality that nearly 5,000 young men and women provide.

But the campus is not quiet.  There was a brief period of tranquility between university commencement and the Washington College of Law commencement.  It was a time to savor the beauty of trees, plantings and vistas crafted by our landscape architect. Along with ‘Clawed,’ AU’s eagle mascot, campus beautification is a  legacy of AU’s deposed former President, Benjamin Ladner.

As I have noted, the tranquility was brief. On the day after the tents housing the Law College commencement were removed  security fences began appearing, creating safe perimeters around numerous construction sites: a refurbished Centennial Residence Hall and Student Union (Mary Gradon Center), an addition to the Kogod School of Business and, most visibly, a magnificent, environmentally-friendly structure that will provide a new home for AU’s School of International Service.

Some this activity, the SIS building for example, is visible and glamorous, but much is invisible and unglamorous.  For example, the Center for Teaching Excellence recently completed a capital budgeting model intended to keep the audio visual equipment we manage up to date.  The annual cost - about $250,000.  AU now has a program to replace all of its computers every three years, remedying a serious deferred maintenance shortfall.  A similar program is in place to upgrade less visible components of AU’s information technology infrastructure - servers, routers, network switching devices and the like.  Dormitory renovation, too is simply intended to keep existing structures on line, basically providing the same level of service.

My reflections on this topic were evoked by a new month-long National Public Radio series on “America’s Decaying Infrastructure.’  This mornings segment, initiating the series, noted how many political leaders are neglecting needed infrastructure spending - on bridges, highways and water supply systems, for example - because it is  less visible and glamorous than spending on schools, and public safety.

AU is fortunate to have leaders, especially its Vice President for Finance and Assistant Vice President for Facilities, who have fought vigorously and successfully for programs to maintain AU’s infrastructure sustainably.  Most students will never be aware of these vital community members, either by name or even by title.  But their work is integral to a high quality educational experience.  They deserve a public vote of thanks.

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