There are a lot of words you could use to describe Arizona State University. “A public university in Arizona” if you’re Wikipedia. “Innovative” if you’re a member of the marketing staff. “Unconstitutionally expensive” if you’re Arizona’s Attorney-General.
However, by far the best word to describe ASU is large. ASU is massive. Gargantuan. Colossal. The Tempe campus alone is larger than at least two internationally recognized independent states, outsizing Monaco and Vatican City at 662 acres (2.67 km²). And that’s just the main campus — there are four other campuses throughout the Phoenix metro area, which each add 575 acres (Polytechnic), 278 acres (West), 160 acres (Thunderbird), and 18 acres (Downtown Phoenix) to the total size. And that doesn’t even begin to cover all the various other buildings and properties owned or leased by the university throughout the city, but you probably get the point by now. ASU is big.
It’s also growing.
Just for a quick reference, here is a map of ASU’s main campus in Tempe, overlaid over a map of the surrounding area of Tempe.
That’s more than two city blocks right in the heart of downtown Tempe, all occupied by the university. That’s before taking into account the golf course which you can see in the upper right, which is also owned by ASU for some reason.
This was ASU in 1890.
Obviously this isn’t a fair point of comparison. After all, in 1890, ASU was the Territorial Normal School, and Tempe only had a population of 897 people. But even 30 years ago, ASU was only a fraction of its current size. In 1987, the Tempe campus was the only campus, with the West campus still under construction and the rest of the satellite campuses still a decade or more away.
This is what the Tempe campus looked like in 1987.
This was taken from a historical campus site plan housed in the Noble Library on-campus, and depicts all extant buildings on the Tempe campus in 1987, along with then-planned additions. This is a subsection of the overall map, displaying the portion of the campus bounded by University and Apache to the north and south, and by Mill and Rural to the west and east. While the full extent of the campus continues further north, the only significant development on the other side of University at the time was the football stadium — the remainder of the campus acreage was parking lots or entirely undeveloped.
The city block outlined above has historically been, and continues to be, the core of ASU, and in 1987 it looked very different than it does today. Almost a quarter of the core campus was parking lots, including everything east of McAllister Avenue. These lots have subsequently been replaced with dorm buildings, as part of the university administration’s incredibly unsubtle attempts to extract more money from students by forcing them to live on campus.
There are other details of this map that are less apparent at this resolution, like the planned addition of the H-wing of the Physical Sciences complex, or the complete absence of the Goldwater building. Even when they existed in 1987, many buildings have since been redeveloped or expanded, like the Hayden Library. I haven’t been able to come up with an exact total for how many new buildings were added to the Tempe campus over the last 30 years, but I estimate that as many as half of the buildings of the core campus did not exist in 1987.
Of course, anyone familiar with the history of ASU knows that this massive construction boom is the result of ASU’s current President, Michael Crow, and his predecessor, Lattie Coor. Between the two of them, ASU has grown at an alarming rate, and shows no signs of stopping or slowing down.
Here’s a rendering from 2011 showing the then-present state of the Tempe campus, and the planned additions for the next decade.
Every square inch of the campus is being developed. Parking lots have become an endangered species, and will soon be driven into extinction once the administration turns its attention towards the waterfront. Where the outward growth of the campus is stymied by the presence of the surrounding city, the university has begun simply assimilating downtown Tempe, buying up buildings one-by-one in its never-ending quest to expand. When it can’t expand the Tempe campus, it opens yet another satellite campus — right now there’s talk of adding a campus in downtown Mesa, because the expansion must not cease.
ASU is too large. Everyone knows it. It takes 45 minutes to walk the full diagonal length of the main campus — while the shortest gap between classes is only 15 minutes. It’s nearly impossible to construct a schedule that minimizes walking distance, because the locations of classes are determined seemingly at random — I’ve had math classes that were immediately followed by a recitation that was half-a-mile away, because having all your math classes in the same building is apparently too reasonable.
So if ASU is too large to properly function as a university, why does it keep expanding? What force compels the administration to ignore the pleas of the Governor, the student body, and basic common sense?
It’s simple. ASU is not a university. It is an eldritch horror in university form, unconstrained by things like Euclidean geometry, state funding, or zoning laws. It will continue expanding, unchecked and unabated, until it has consumed the entire Phoenix metro area — which I estimate will occur before 2068 — and then it will continue until the entire world has been overrun. It cannot be stopped. It cannot be reasoned with. It can only expand.