Editorial: SFSU’s awkwardly planned expansion

It’s become axiomatic that college degrees should be universal. So unquestioned is the desirability of post-secondary schooling for everyone that the Democrats made subsidizing it a plank in their successful campaign to recapture Congress. And what campus isn’t planning a major expansion, as indeed San Francisco State University now contemplates?

Some sort of competitive drive no doubt animates these renovations, even within the state university system. The Bay Area, of course, prizes its countless campuses, both public and private, and has earned its reputation as home to the most redundantly schooled people on earth. And, yes, we do distinguish, as Mark Twain did, between schooling and education, but that’s an issue for another day.

What SFSU wants to do, by the year 2020, is expand throughout The City’s southwest corner by another 10 acres, adding 900,000 square feet of building space. Campus planners anticipate 5,000 more full-time students, the projected total for the moment resting at 25,000, and hope to accommodate them.

You may be thinking that a local school bureaucracy poised to close several elementary and high schools, this sad development owing to The City’s notorious family exodus, belies SFSU’s demographic fantasy. From where would these 5,000 additional matriculants come? That would miss the cosmopolitan point: The local colleges recruit — again, competitively — among prospective students worldwide.

So much for the organic connection long ago thought to exist between community and campus. And never mind that, sometime within the next decade and a half, the targeted number of students almost certainly will change. Fresh planners might even find it unrealistic.

SFSU’s expansionists apparently have breached another local connection. Members of the Parkmerced Residents’ Organization, an elderly community neighboring the campus, fear the plans could destroy 3,400 housing units, which the university denies. Thus do two liberal social objectives clash, pitting the generations against each other.

Complains Lora Traveler, Parkmerced’s president emeritus: “We are up in arms and we are angry. This is a dangerous program that will leave seniors dislocated.” The university, you see, announced the plans without a feasibility report. This is how they teach urban planning at SFSU?

If the Parkmerced Residents’ Organization problem weren’t embarrassing enough, the university announced extracurricular plans that raise obvious questions about how it defines the nature of its business. Indeed, it wants to go into business. Beyond the new greenbelts and enlarged recreational fields, among other landscape niceties it plans to supervise, SFSU wants to go into the hotel and conference center business.

We haven’t heard from The City’s hotel industry, but we’re wondering if 250 state-owned rooms would be welcomed — unless SFSU intends to compete with Cornell’s famed hotel school and train local hotel staff. Now, that sort of thinking just might fit into the university’s mission, but the community needs to be sold.

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