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Town / Gown

John J. Petillo

From the earliest days of the modern university, cities have been important partners for institutions of higher learning—largely because universities can bring scholars and students together for creative thinking, while cities can provide the human capital necessary to share innovative ideas with the public.

Some of us east-coasters are urban-centric when it comes to identifying with the last American higher learning frontier—rising out of the Rocky Mountains and continental college town divide. Indeed, new interest in eco-tourism, adventure tourism, and extreme sports is creating a different kind of gold rush—expeditions to places of big sky, wild rivers, lakes, and peaks formed by glaciers thousands of years ago.

Maintaining healthy town/gown relations enhances campus life and generally makes the institutional mission easier to achieve. In recent years, however, community college officials are finding that efforts must go beyond providing cultural venues that locals can access.

Unintended consequences will frequently result from unique events. Barton College (N.C.) fashioned one of the most dramatic finishes ever played when it won the DII National Men’s Basketball Championship in spring 2007. In the last 45 seconds, a single point guard sank five baskets. The shot that won the game dropped with 0.1 seconds to go. (If you love basketball and have not seen this clip, it’s on YouTube under “Barton College Basketball.”)

Anna Maria College football players on the field

The University of Texas at San Antonio campus is dominated by modern cream-colored buildings with dark red tile roofs and acres of parking lots, testimony to 40 years of serving largely as a commuter school for students from the surrounding area.

For many years, Mississippi ranked near the bottom in higher learning aspiration, academic attainment, and state support—but times have changed. Today, the state's economic and workforce development organizations are teaming up to launch a new collaboration between southern business, industry, and the Mississippi public system of higher education—a dynamic plan aptly named Blueprint Mississippi 2011. And who better to serve as Blueprint's Chair and chief spokesperson than Hank Bounds, commissioner of higher education.


Most people go to Disney to relax and have fun. For the past three years, David Zanolla, a communication instructor at Western Illinois University, has taken students in his Disney World Communication Culture course to see the principles they learn about in class in action. "The people who needed the most convincing were the parents," he says, adding that the spring break timeframe is usually thought of as party time. But with a daily schedule of 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., students have a full plate.

When Zach Waickman was a senior at Loyola University Chicago, he had just completed an internship with a major news network in Chicago and planned to pursue a career within his communication major. But, a course focused on biodiesel completely changed his path.

Waickman, who graduated in 2008, is now working toward obtaining his MBA and is biodiesel lab manager for Loyola's Center for Urban Environmental Research, facilitating students in the process of turning waste grease into biodiesel to fuel the university's shuttle busses.

Recent popular books and articles on the state of higher education today might lead a reader to conclude that no students are prepared for college-level work, nor are they learning or studying as much as they should, especially in their first two years in college. In the March 24 New York Review of Books, Peter Brooks, the distinguished scholar of comparative literature who spent many years at Yale and is now at Princeton, reviews several of the recently published critiques of American higher education.

California Lutheran University and the City of Thousand Oaks grew up together. California Lutheran College was officially incorporated on Aug. 4, 1959, five years before the city incorporated. CLU is just finishing a wonderful celebration of its first 50 years. And the same birthday is coming up for Thousand Oaks.