As the University of Kentucky enters into what could be a long-term alliance with a private developer to remake student housing, everyone involved could find inspiration in what The New York Times reported last week from another big campus.
Yes, yes, UK must stay fixated on getting and policing just the right contract terms if it boldly goes where no university has gone before by outsourcing all its student housing to a for-profit company.
But let's not lose sight of the overarching purpose for launching this ambitious plan to swiftly improve and increase on-campus student housing: Advancing scholarship by enhancing the quality of students' experience in Lexington.
Where that kind of big-picture thinking could lead is illustrated by what the University of Wisconsin and the city of Madison have accomplished.
The East Campus Gateway, which will serve as the university's front door, includes private developments, university buildings, public gathering places and a cool shopping center with businesses appealing to students.
"In the last decade," the Times reports, "university architects and administrators, working with Madison's planners, have been more purposeful. Prompted by trends in urban design that emphasize closer ties between retail stores and cultural institutions, open space, recreation and stronger neighborhoods, the university and city developed a more definitive construction plan."
The result: Nearly $500 million in development worthy of coverage in the Times' real estate section.
The private company that could eventually own or manage UK's dorms, Education Realty Trust of Memphis, wants a project that other universities will envy. The surest way to accomplish that is through enlightened, collaborative planning and design that looks beyond the campus boundaries to the "college town" beyond.
Maybe it won't be as big or dramatic. But UK, EdR and Lexington should aim for something as distinctive as what Wisconsin and Madison have built.