Letter to the editor: A University Is Not a Shopping Mall

Annette Gilson, Ph.D, Contributor

Last Friday, I had to get an X-ray at Ascension hospital in Rochester Hills. Coming home, I drove west on Walton Boulevard toward the Oakland University campus. It was late in the day and traffic was heavy, especially near the corner of Walton and Adams. People were headed home from work, and shoppers came and went from the intersection’s three developed corners: the Tim Horton corner, The Village corner, and the Trader Joe’s/Busch’s corner.

Like most people, I don’t like how built up Rochester Hills has become—people move here because of its green spaces, its leafy avenues, its good schools. Which is why, when I descended the hill and neared the intersection, I was glad to see the great forest on the OU corner. That forest reminds us of the history of Oakland University, which had its first incarnation as forested lands belonging to the Anishinaabe people. The grassy expanse, which lies between the forest and the intersection, reminds us in turn of Matilda Wilson, who devoted herself to the exploration of farming best-practices and dedicated the land to future generations of Michiganders.

Matilda Wilson donated her farm to the state to create a public university. A university is not a shopping mall. It’s a place where people go to learn more about the world and themselves. They attend to prepare for a career and, in that process, they build a community. As members of the Oakland University community, it is up to us to tell the administrators, who want to plow up the meadow and woods to put in another shopping mall, that we don’t want or need it. There’s plenty of shopping in the area. Indeed, on the Walton and Adams corner, there are empty storefronts. Why build more?

One of the great things about the meadow and woods is the fact that they announce themselves as something different. When we drive toward them, we know at once that we are not arriving at yet another shopping area that could be anywhere in the over-developed landscape of modern America. Instead, we find ourselves approaching an institution that respects itself as a space of possibility, a space that leaves room for imagining the needs of future people, as well as the needs of its current students and community members.

One important thing that the forest and meadow help us to imagine is how we will address the current climate crisis. This crisis most recently sent a tornado spinning through the town of Gaylord. It is torching the country’s western states, with fires of such intensity that, last summer here in Michigan, smoke burned citizens’ throats and turned the sun red. It is clear that the campus community needs to join President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz in her Grizzlies Healthy Planet Initiative (GHPI), which “encourages OU to adopt policies that support a more healthy and sustainable university.”

Oakland University has invited comments and questions about the proposed East Campus development here. But let’s join our voices together and say publicly, here in OU’s student newspaper, how we feel about putting yet another shopping mall on the corner of Walton and Adams.