CONTROLLED DECENTRALIZATION


The forthcoming 25th Silver Anniversary Meeting of the Board of Governors toward the end of May will in a sense formally usher in what in Israel is called a mahapach, a changeover or mini-revolution, in the physical concept of our Mount Carmel campus.

When the University was first designed, the illustrious architect Oscar Niemeyer, who was responsible for Brasilia and other brilliant designs, conceived of the Haifa campus as a centralized unit. Most of the classrooms would be located in one building (the Main Building) and faculty offices and administrative units in another (the Eshkol Tower). For its time, the concept seemed to work, making for compactness and intimacy with a student body that numbered two or three thousand.

Urban planners and architects, however, had long debated the optimum structure of a university campus. Some believed that concentration brought the advantage of close interaction among students and between students and faculty. Another school argued for the decentralization of buildings to enhance the feeling of an open environment on campus to parallel the sense of free intellectual inquiry.

Came the 1990s and the University of Haifa, which had started the decade with some 6,000 students and then went on to double its full-time student body by mid-decade, found that its vertical structure allowed intimacy, but more so in the congested elevators than anywhere else. With almost 20,000 students--nearly 13,000 pursuing a degree and perhaps another 7,000 taking various non-degree courses and programs--the University saw diminishing returns for the concept of campus concentration.

A new master plan was designed, reported on in these pages, that changed not only the face of our Haifa campus but its original concept. The emphasis, borrowing perhaps from each school of thought, was now on controlled decentralization. The idea was to allow Faculties and other units to be identified with specific buildings. This would have the advantage of dispersing students to relieve congestion, but at the same time of providing more interaction within a Faculty than could be attained with the chaotic situation that had developed in a single tower. The new master plan afforded more of a feel of an open campus, with more buildings and outside promenades. On the other hand, it also gave the feel of a neighborhood community rather than that of a dispersed city such as characterizes some institutions. Intimacy would be retained, but now within Faculties, which would be freer to develop their own identities. At the same time, access and visibility would easily be available to all on campus.

The 25th Meeting of the Board, as I wrote at the outset, will formally inaugurate this change in the physical structure and concept of the University campus with the dedication of the Rabin Complex for the Faculty of Social Sciences and Mathematics. The dedication constitutes the symbolic basic change and the first step in actualizing the new master plan even if it has not yet been approved by all the requisite government agencies.

The change in concept from vertical concentration to more horizontal controlled decentralization will not be without its adjustment pains. It will necessitate the creation of “computer farms” and of “library depots” to bring these facilities, now highly centralized, closer to the students. It will affect the supply and variety of services to students and faculty members alike. It is expected that all this adjustment to decentralization will take time. The end result, though, will be an enlargement and enrichment of the University of Haifa campus.

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