The university where I work is currently going through a major strategic planning cycle. Various workgroups are charged with paying attention to various aspects of the institution’s presence, direction, functioning, etc. Eventually each group’s findings and pithy observations will be dumped onto a figurative table to be dissected, checked for redundancy, vetted, and, by some unfathomable organizational sleight of hand, stitched together into a living, breathing thing that will either be achingly beautiful and surefooted in its movements, or breathtakingly misguided. Will it fly or stumble? That’s the fun of it—no one knows for sure. It’s a sweetly imperfect thing to do, an ultimately human endeavor. Whatever the outcome, we all deserve the Hustle Award. We also deserve the cheese-and-cracker trays that magically appear at every meeting and keep us from death’s door. Whoever’s in charge of the snacks, keep ’em coming.

Many of my fellow strategic planners strongly believe that our campus, our little slice of the world, would be a better place were we to pony up for a state-of-the-art, multi-use, community-friendly student center garnished with a bowling alley, brewpub, ample wired and wireless lounge-happy space, and perhaps a Starbucks in a Starbucks in a Starbucks, ad infinitum. Or so the joke goes. No argument from this quarter; I’m all in favor of cosmic bowling. There are many good reasons to build a student center: creates sense of community, functions as gathering space or "hearth," better addresses needs of adult learners, etc.

Our conversation later veered into the strategic importance of creating a vibrant Web 2.0 presence for the university. The student center idea strikes me as an apt analogy. If social networking functions as a gathering place for students and prospective students, aren’t we talking about an opportunity for higher education institutions to establish a Web 2.0 presence as a kind of virtual student center? The analogy is rough and doesn’t really capture the nuances of social networking, but I think it’s at least in the ballpark. I’m humbly prepared to be schooled by a master of the 2.0 arts, though.

Meanwhile, in the spirit of what we might call a conceptual architecture competition sponsored by the good people from the Land of Make-Believe, I formally propose the following models for a new student center:

  1. A giant sandbox constructed in the center of campus, approximately 100 meters width by 100 meters length, occupying the area currently occupied by the mall. Pails, shovels, beach balls, and energy drinks would be distributed to students from support kiosks located around the perimeters; the kiosks would be operated 24/7 by trained university support staff.
  2. An island in Second Life.

I’m kidding, but not really. A Second Life island as quasi student center is an idea that’s creeping closer to the higher ed mainstream every day