President's Pages in Princeton Alumni Weekly
Frist Campus Center: 1-1/2 and Going Strong
March 13, 2002
To turn an aphorism on its head: Sometimes you don’t know what you need until you have it. This aptly describes the Frist Campus Center. In its first year and a half, it has more than fulfilled the ambitious promises of those who proposed it. Built with Bob Venturi ’47 *50 and Denise Scott-Brown’s elegant design, it is the home for both academic and non-academic activities, including much needed media-equipped classrooms, performance space, meeting rooms and study spaces for both individuals and groups. The Women’s Center, International Center, the Community Service Center, the new McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, along with various student organizations and our student governments are now located in this central campus destination.
It also acts as a hub for sending and receiving information: upperclass students have mailboxes in the Center; there are banks of computers available for a quick e-mail check; the large screen television in the public lounge gives access to the latest news, and the rolling electronic message board keeps everyone abreast of campus activities. It was a natural location for the post-September 11 response center. Its multi-purpose rooms in the basement are booked months in advance by student organizations, for staff and faculty meetings, for alumni gatherings, not to mention social occasions such as the rousing farewell party for Vice President for Development Van Zandt Williams ’65 in January.
Frist is first and foremost a place of comings and goings. While some stay for hours to watch a dance concert or to study while looking out over Guyot Hall, many others stop by only to pick up their mail, play a game of pool or grab a bite to eat in the food court or in Café Vivian. It is also a magnet during times when faculty, staff, and students want the chance to experience events not as individuals or as students or staff but as members of the University community. The center became the living room of campus during last spring’s first-round NCAA basketball tournament game against the University of North Carolina and last fall after the September 11 tragedies. In both cases, faculty, staff, and students gathered together well into the night by the large-screen TV. The campus-wide farewell event for Harold and Vivian Shapiro and the welcoming reception when my appointment was announced were other occasions when Frist itself, in particular its spacious south-facing back lawn, seemed just the right place for the community to join together.
Paul Breitman, the Center’s director, came here from Rutgers University where he was in charge of a center similar to Frist, and he drew on his years of experience to help plan Frist. But even he was surprised by the center’s almost immediate popularity and especially by its increasingly visible role as the front door of campus. With Frist as the meeting place for the Orange Key tour guides, visitors are drawn to Frist. The Welcome Desk on the first floor was added in response to the traffic generated by the guides and to give a human face to the facility.
Who uses the center? The short answer is everyone. I recall my first walk through Frist about a week after it opened. I was amazed to see people from every corner of the campus—staff from senior administrators to hourly employees, faculty from diverse departments, undergraduates and graduate students. It is a rare occasion that brings such a broad cross-section of the university together in one place, and it reinforced for me the great wisdom of conceiving of Frist as a Campus Center and not a Student Center. What struck me then and continues to impress me now is that no one seems out of place, certainly not the way students seem out of place at Prospect House or that faculty stick out at eating clubs. Everyone fits at Frist. This includes alumni, who frequently use Frist meeting space during the year and vie for it during reunions.
My first impression of Frist’s broad appeal is borne out by recent statistics from dining services, who manage Café Vivian, the gallery dining court and the convenience store. These show a steady increase in the traffic through the Campus Center, with students using it heavily in the evening and as a popular stop on their way to and from the eating clubs especially on the weekends. A recent policy change for charging meals at University facilities gave faculty and staff the opportunity to sign up for a point system to use in the Frist dining facilities. A surprising total of 800 faculty and staff enrolled, and you often see them there with their children on the weekends.
I make it a practice to walk through Frist on my way from my office in Nassau Hall to my lab in the Lewis Thomas Laboratory. Frist continues to be a location that embraces all sectors of the community, and the community has clearly embraced Frist. As I have told alumni when we talk about today’s Princeton, the only complaint I hear about Frist is that it needs to be five-times bigger to accommodate demand. That’s a complaint that belies success!