Man does not build a prestigious university by brick alone, but at George Mason University, bricks may prove to be a good starting point.
At last Thursday's ground breaking ceremonies for the new $6-million classroom facility at the campus on University Drive in Fairfax County, school officials spoke optimistically about the future.
"We are embarking on a period of progress and expansion to meet the growing needs of the area," John T. Hazel Jr., chairman of the school Board of Visitors, told 100 spectators. Yet the question remains: Will George Mason come to be recognized as a major center of learning and culture?
The school has a new look and a new president - George W. Johnson, former dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Temple University. Johnson's task, according to a school spokesman, is "to inspire the university to mature as a varied, influential and prestigious institution of higher education."
One way school officials said they hope to get prestige - or, at the very least, some attention - is to build, to expand. And George Mason is expanding at a rapid rate. Located on a 500-acre campus near Fairfax City, the school now enrolls 9,200 students in 40 undergraduate and 17 graduate programs. Since George Mason is one of only two state schools in the fast growing Northern Virginia area, university officials expect an enrollment of 15,000 students by 1985.
The largely commuter college opened dormitories for the first time last year with space to house 498 students. In addition to the new classroom facility started last week, construction is slated to begin in December on another educational building, costing $7.6 million. Both units should be completed by 1980.
Officials at George Mason are also trying to buy an existing law school facility in Arlington and expand the university into the Arlington area. Long range plans call for the construction of 15 buildings over the next two decades.
But expansion has not come easy for young George Mason, only in its sixth year of operation as an independent, four-year college. School administrators said they have had to hassle with the state legislature for every penny of funding.
"It's been a challenge," said Robert C. Krug, acting president of the university, in explaining the fight for funds. Officials at George Mason have complained that the legislature, dominated by legislators from the southern-part of the state, often neglects the needs of the Northern Virginia school, relegating it to "stepchild" status in the state college system.
The latest classroom addition at George Mason almost never made it past the planning stages. In 1976 the legislature wanted to finance an ambitious $86-million college construction program by increasing the state's income and capital gains tax. Then Gov. Mills E. Godwin threatened to veto such a move, favoring instead a coal tax. No action was taken. No money went to schools for construction. The colleges took their case to the voters in 1977, securing passage of a bond referendum. George Mason's building project was salvaged.
At last week's ground breaking, Hazel told the half dozen state legislators in attendance, "We'll keep holding ceremonies like this if you keep giving us the money."
The new brick-front, three-story building will house the university's school of business administration and departments of sociology and economics. It will provide 18 classrooms, 24 laboratories, 100 faculty offices and a 500-seat auditorium. The building will be named after Clarence Robinson, an Alexandria concrete manufacturer who has been one of the university's most generous private benefactors.
As school trustees forced a gold-plated shovel into the earth last week to mark the beginning of construction, one student looked on, shaking his head. "All this expansion may not make George Mason a great school," he said, "but they're sure as hell trying."