This Will Do
A look at the Kenyon campus and how it grew
We know, at least according to legend, that upon first seeing the hilltop that is now home to Kenyon College, Bishop Philander Chase uttered the immortal words, "This will do."
What we don't know is the tone of voice in which he uttered them. The hilltop Kenyon now calls home was not Chase's first choice; in fact, it wasn't even his second. And he had traveled a long, hard road to get there.
When Chase first came to Ohio from Connecticut in 1817, he settled in Worthington, then a small village, which had been founded by Episcopal deacon James Kilbourne in 1793, ten years before Ohio became a state. At the age of forty-two, Chase had given up the comforts of the rectorship of Christ Church in Hartford, Connecticut, to follow the flood of fellow Connecticut residents into the wilds of the Western Reserve. By 1818, Chase had been elected the first bishop of the fledgling Diocese of Ohio.
A man with a missionary spirit, Chase knew that the newly opened land would have an ongoing need for a large supply of well-educated clergymen, which was unlikely to come from the East. Thus, the bishop set about creating his own seminary to fulfill that need. With the backing of the diocese, he planned at first to locate the institution on his own farm in Worthington, but upon reflection decided that it would be best to remove his students from the "vice and dissipation of urban life."
It quickly became apparent to Chase that in order for his seminary to survive, he would also need to provide education at the grammar school and college levels. Such a comprehensive institution would have the benefit of being attractive to more students, and the tuition of those in the grammar school and college would subsidize that of the seminarians. However, the site along Alum Creek that he had chosen for the institution was found wanting by others in the diocese, and Chase was prevented from pursuing his plan there.
Despite this setback, Chase set out for England to raise funds, where he encountered a strong enemy in New York Bishop John Hobart, who was engaged in raising funds there for the General Theological Seminary in New York City. However, he had an equally strong ally in the American statesman Henry Clay, who introduced him to Lord Gambier, who in turn introduced him to the prominent men and women of the Anglican church-among them Lord Kenyon and Lady Rosse-who would become the College's earliest benefactors.
On July 24, 1825, almost exactly a year after he had sailed home from England, Chase held services in the tiny village of Mount Vernon. The next day, he rode into the countryside with the young lawyer Henry Curtis. Just south of Hanna Hall, the Celtic Cross donated to the College by the Bexley Hall Class of 1902 stands on the site where Chase supposedly stood when he made the momentous decision to locate his college on the hilltop. The occasion is celebrated in the mural by Norris Rahming, a Kenyon art professor and administrator, that decorates the north wall of the Gambier post office's lobby.
Many in the diocese were unhappy with the selection, and there are some indications that Chase wasn't altogether charmed by the site, which was probably a bit less civilized, and perhaps a bit more isolated, than even he might have liked. (He insisted, for example, upon calling Owl Creek-what we now know as the Kokosing-the Vernon River.) Nevertheless, he immediately set about carving a college out of the 4,000 acres of wilderness that the diocese had purchased. Over time, more than 3,000 of that 4,000 acres, plus an additional 4,000 bought as an investment, would be sold off to support the institution's operations.
The College's first buildings were rough log structures, providing little more than basic shelter from the elements-and sometimes not even that. Among those first buildings were the home of Chase and his family, known as the "Bishop's Palace," and the grammar school and chapel (figures 1-2), "Old Seventy-Four" (there are various explanations for the name, ranging from the number of windows to the resemblance to a particular type of fighting ship), which were located just north of where the Church of the Holy Spirit now stands.
The first permanent building, the one we now know as Old Kenyon (3-4), was begun in 1827 and first occupied in 1829, although the east and west wings, which were redesigned by Professor Marcus Tullius Cicero Wing, were not completed until the mid 1830s. The construction of its massive walls, four feet thick at their bases, at a time when the War of 1812 was still fresh in the minds of local inhabitants, gave rise to fears that the many English quarrymen, stonecutters, and masons at work on the project, as well as the students, were in fact British soldiers building and manning a fortress on the hilltop.
Contrary to College legend, the bulk of the structure was designed not by the famed Charles Bulfinch but by Norman Nash, an Episcopal clergyman and amateur architect, with assistance from Chase himself. We know from his writings that Chase had fallen in love with Gothic architecture, which was closely associated with Christianity, during his time in England, when he visited the colleges of Oxford University and numerous cathedrals. Bulfinch, whose acquaintance Chase made while in Washington seeking congressional funds for the College in 1828, contributed a revised design for the steeple.
In February 1949, Old Kenyon was destroyed in a catastrophic fire (5) that took the lives of nine students. Because the structure's symbolic value was so great, there was little hesitation in deciding to rebuild. The walls were carefully taken down, to allow a fireproof steel superstructure to be put in place, and then reassembled in their prefire formations. The only change made to the exterior was the placement of a row of fourth-floor dormers on the south face (6).
Although it's difficult to substantiate our claim that Old Kenyon is the first Collegiate Gothic structure in America, it does predate, by at least several years, surviving buildings in the style at other colleges. Architectural historians tend to date the beginning of the Gothic Revival in American to the early 1820s, when the Gothic style became popular for churches, but it did not become common at colleges until the 1850s.
It's certain, however, that Chase chose the style, as he would later at his Jubilee College in Illinois, to emphasize ties with England and the English church. It's also clear that he was keenly aware of the architecture's capacity to inspire. Chase's correspondence with the College's benefactors is filled with lyrical descriptions of the cam-pus. In an 1829 letter to Lord Gambier, he wrote that "the steeple [of Old Kenyon] is in good proportion, high and beautiful. . . . As you approach it, thoughts of the past and future force themselves on your mind."
The term Collegiate Gothic was probably coined by the noted architect Alexander Jackson Davis, who used it to describe buildings such as those he designed for the Virginia Military Institute, which still exist, and others that have been lost to fire, neglect, and changing tastes.
There's little doubt that not only Chase but also other college builders of the period were looking to English, and specifically medieval English, models for their institutions. Chase's notes from his visit to Oxford make it clear that he admired the town's colleges for their venerability and their air of piety made manifest; it's likely that other American visitors shared his sentiments and brought them back to their campuses as well.
Unlike their English counterparts, however, most American campuses of the period remained relatively open and outward looking, rather than closed and inward looking. (The word campus, from the Latin for field or open plain, was first used to describe the grounds of a college in regard to Princeton University, then known as the College of New Jersey, in the late eighteenth century.) Some of the historical reasons for the enclosed quadrangles-such as protection from the often-demonstrated animosity of townspeople for scholars in medieval times-didn't apply in the New World, but more importantly, because most American campuses of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century grew up in rural areas, space was not a major concern. At Kenyon, it's been observed, the organization of the campus and village owes more to Williamsburg, with its central axis aligned with the original building, than to medieval English university towns.
By the end of the nineteenth century, campuses composed of one or more large-scale enclosed quadrangles-exemplified by those at Stanford University and the University of Chicago-would become much more popular, as would the addition of such quadrangles to existing campuses, notably at Duke, Princeton, and Yale universities. Almost every American campus built before that time, however, began with a single, often monumental structure that housed every operation of the institution. In Gambier, that building was the one we now know as Old Kenyon.
Rosse Hall (7), the College's second permanent building, was begun in 1829. The site for Kenyon's first chapel, which Chase imagined as a Gothic structure that would preside at the western edge of one of the "academical squares" he envisioned for the hilltop, was chosen because it was the highest on the plateau, enjoying a splendid view of the surrounding countryside. By the time Chase left Gambier in September 1831, only the chapel's foundation had been laid, and it would be another fourteen years before the structure, in much altered form, was completed. The building in its final Classical Revival style was designed by Charles Romanoff Prezriminsky, then a "Teacher of Modern Languages" at the College.
Although it was no longer used as a chapel following completion of the Church of the Holy Spirit in 1871, Rosse Hall has gone on to serve the College in a variety of capacities. Gutted by fire in 1897 (8), it was quickly rebuilt as the gymnasium not only for Kenyon but also for the Harcourt Place School for Girls (9). It has also been used as a dance hall, lecture hall, a theater for both drama productions and movies, and, for a few memorable days in the spring of 1970, a forum for the entire community in the wake of the killing of four student protestors by National Guardsmen at Kent State University. A 1975 remodeling made the building a first-rate concert facility and restored its most distinctive feature, the wood-paneled ceiling, to its former glory after years of being hidden by acoustical tile.
Behind Rosse Hall, and now behind Storer Hall as well, sits the College cemetery (10), which dates to Kenyon's earliest years. For most of the nineteenth century, it served as the primary burial site for the village as well as the College.
The next permanent structure to be built on the hill was Bexley Hall (11), situated facing Old Kenyon at the far end of the plateau, with almost exactly one mile separating the two buildings' front doors. At least one historian has suggested that Chase was inspired by the U.S. Constitution in his plan to so separate his seminary from his college. With support obtained by Charles Pettit McIlvaine, Chase's successor as bishop of Ohio and president of the College, from Nicholas Vansittart, Lord Bexley, the distinguished English architect Henry Roberts was engaged in 1835 to design the building. The cornerstone was not laid until 1839, however, because the funds for the building's construction were needed elsewhere. Although it was first occupied in 1843, Bexley Hall was not completed until 1858.
Also at the northern edge of the campus, the Kenyon brothers of Delta Kappa Epsilon appropriated an abandoned cabin (12) in the woods to the west of Bexley Hall in 1853 for their meetings and rituals. As architectural historian Paul Venable Turner observed in his 1984 book Campus: An American Planning Tradition, these students were "indulging fully the American romance of collegiate life in the purity of nature." In so doing, they were also laying claim to the honor of owning the first fraternity lodge in America.
When David Bates Douglass arrived in Gambier in 1840 as the College's third president, he found three major buildings on the hilltop, several private residences, numerous temporary or incomplete structures, and a general air of disarray. Piles of discarded building materials sat next to rotting stumps; the "investigating snouts of roving swine," to use Kenyon historian George Franklin Smythe's particularly colorful description, saw to it that no seedling was able to become firmly rooted. The ideal of the "campus beautiful" had been lost in the College's mid-century scramble for solvency, but Douglass was determined that it would be regained. A former West Point professor and a skilled engineer with a passion for order, he laid out the "College Park," constructed the pillars and gates, and built Middle Path (13-14) from there to Old Kenyon.
The next man to have a lasting impact on the campus was Gregory Thurston Bedell, who became the third bishop of Ohio in 1859. It was he who extended Middle Path northward from the gateposts to Bexley Hall, and it was he who planted the trees along its length. His wish, unfulfilled, was that the northern portion (15-16) of the path would be called "The Bishop's Walk."
In the middle of the nineteenth century, William Tinsley was perhaps the most popular college architect in the Midwest, designing buildings for Kenyon, Indiana University, the University of Wisconsin, and Wabash College, among others. A close friend of Bedell as a result of his work on several churches in the diocese, he designed the bishop's Gambier home, Kokosing (17), in 1864. His contributions to the campus include Ascension Hall (18-19) and, in all likelihood, some details of the Church of the Holy Spirit and the house known as Clifford Place or Neff Cottage (20), which now serves as the home of the College's dean of students.
Ascension Hall is considered by Tinsley's biographer, J.D. Forbes, to be one of the architect's masterpieces. Built of olive shale-the same stone used in Kokosing, the Church of the Holy Spirit, and Christ Church at the Quarry-the structure was a gift of the Church of the Ascension in New York City. Among its outstanding features are the second- and third-floor lecture halls-Philomathesian and Nu Pi Kappa, respectively-which were assigned to the College's two literary societies.
Two of Tinsley's other surviving buildings are also in Knox County, but not at Kenyon. One is Christ Church at the Quarry (21), or Quarry Chapel (sometimes attributed to its builder, William Fish), located about a mile northeast of Gambier at the intersection of Quarry Chapel and Monroe Mills roads. The other is the Knox County Infirmary (also known as the Knox County Home) in Bangs, which can be glimpsed from U.S. 36. That now-abandoned structure, charitably described by his biographer as "definitely not one of Tinsley's more successful works," most recently served as the home of Mount Vernon Bible College.
Constructed between 1869 and 1871, the Church of the Holy Spirit (22-24) was another gift of the Church of the Ascension, which Bedell had served as rector for many years and whose rector in 1869 was the Reverend John Cotton Smith, son of the Reverend Thomas Smith, a former Kenyon president. While the design of the chapel is usually credited to Bedell and his wife, it bears a number of the hallmarks of both Tinsley's and Detroit architect Gordon Lloyd's ecclesiastical buildings, including stepped buttresses, narrow, elongated doors and windows, and an off-center bell tower. Its striking interior is highlighted by such features as a barrel-vaulted ceiling and decorative wall paintings of passages from the Scriptures.
In the first quarter of the twentieth century, several leading architects of the period contributed notable buildings to the campus. Probably the best known of these was Charles Schweinfurth, a Cleveland architect who had trained under the great Boston architect Henry Hobson Richardson. Many of Schweinfurth's nineteenth-century buildings are in the Romanesque and Shingle styles most closely associated with Richardson, but by the early twentieth century, when Schweinfurth first worked for Kenyon, he had begun to design more buildings with Gothic elements.
Schweinfurth's first building for the College was the Tudor Gothic Hanna Hall (25-26), funds for which were provided by U.S. Senator Marcus Hanna as a memorial to his wife, Charlotte Augusta Rhodes Hanna. Nevertheless, when he announced the gift, Hanna said he wished the dormitory to be called "The Politician's Barracks." Like "The Bishop's Walk," though, the name never caught on with the students.
Completed in 1903, Hanna is constructed of rusticated sandstone with bold ashlar moldings and stringcourses. The focal point of the facade is the arched entrance with its Perpendicular Gothic ornament. What might have been its most striking feature, though, was never built, for the College decided to forgo construction of a one-and-a-half-story "hall" and billiard room-akin to the Norton Room in Ransom Hall-that Schweinfurth had intended for the rear of the building to take advantage of the view from that spot into the Kokosing Valley (27).
Also for Kenyon, Schweinfurth designed Alumni Library (28, now Ransom Hall) to replace Hubbard Hall, the College's first separate library building. The most distinctive feature of the Tudor Gothic building is the Norton Room (29), constructed as a reading room with funds provided by David Z. Norton of Cleveland (for whom the architect had designed a residence in 1897). In its years as a library, the building held a magazine room, a cataloguing area, seminar rooms, and a board room, while the bulk of the book collection was stored in the stacks in Stephens Hall, which had survived the 1910 fire that destroyed Hubbard Hall.
As the College's supervising architect, Schweinfurth also took on two vast remodeling projects. In 1913, he designed a complete interior make-over for Bexley Hall, then the seat of the seminary. His alterations accommodated St. Mary's Chapel on the building's west end and a large lounge on the east, both with distinctive golden-oak paneling. Similar paneling decorated the interior of Colburn Hall (30), which Schweinfurth designed as a library addition to Bexley Hall in 1904.
Sadly, virtually all traces of the architect's interior work on the northern end of campus have been obliterated. The same is true of his work on Old Kenyon, which was limited to the interior and which was destroyed in the 1949 fire.
A tribute to William A. Leonard, the fourth bishop of Ohio, and the memory of his wife, Leonard Hall (31) was constructed with $200,000 in contributions from Ohio Episcopal churchmen. It was the campus's first building designed by architect Abram Garfield, a son of U.S. President James A. Garfield. The Collegiate Gothic structure, built of Glenmont sandstone, was first occupied in September 1924.
Although it, too, is sometimes mistakenly attributed to Schweinfurth, Samuel Mather Hall (32) was actually designed by Garfield as well. The style is Perpendicular Gothic, with Brier Hill sandstone for the main body of the building and Indiana limestone for the trim. At the time of its completion in 1925, Samuel Mather Hall was considered one of the most advanced science-education facilities in the country.
Just before the Market Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression put an end to building plans on countless campuses, Kenyon was able to construct one of its most handsome and useful facilities. With a gift of $300,000 from William Nelson Cromwell and Frank Hadley Ginn for the building itself and $70,000 from the Diocese of Ohio for the Philander Chase Memorial Tower, the College was able to realize its dream of a commons to replace the building on Chase Avenue that now houses the Office of Development and then served strictly-and, by all accounts, poorly-as a dining facility.
Peirce Hall (34) was the second major campus building to be designed by Chicago architect Alfred Granger (33), an 1887 graduate of Kenyon. (The first was Cromwell House , the president's residence and another gift of William Nelson Cromwell.) Among Peirce Hall's most celebrated features were the east terrace (35), with its stunning view of Knox County fields and forests, and the elegantly detailed Peirce Lounge. Like Schweinfurth, Granger, who was noted for the artistry and ease with which he could meld motifs from historical styles and the then-popular Arts and Crafts Movement, was one of several of the campus's architects to pass at the beginning of his career through the offices of H.H. Richardson's firm, now known as Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott.
On the occasion of the building's dedication in 1929, an understandably delighted Peirce was heard to comment that it was the last Kenyon would ever need. Fortunately, it was one of the few times in his forty-one years as president that he could have been accused of a lack of foresight.
Nevertheless, for a while at least, it looked as if Peirce's prediction might be accurate. During the 1930s and early 1940s, only two structures were added to the campus. The Shaffer Pool Building (37-38), with its glass-roofed pool that gave rise to the nickname "The Glass House," was completed in 1936. (Now known as Bolton Dance Studio , it was converted to that use in 1981.) The Shaffer Speech Building (40), home of the Hill Theater, opened in 1941.
With Gordon Keith Chalmers at the College's helm beginning in 1937, however, it became increasingly clear that there were several buildings that would be needed if Kenyon was to fulfill the ambitious new president's goals. Chief among these facilities would be a new library, for which Chalmers chose a site along Middle Path that would require moving the structure we now know as Bailey House. Although plans were drawn up as early as the 1940s (41), other priorities kept the project from coming to fruition until after Chalmers's death in 1956, with the firm of O'Connor and Kilham being engaged to design Chalmers Memorial Library (42) in 1961. On October 16, 1962, a "book brigade" (43) of community members made short work of transferring the collection from the old library to the new. The building, impressive for its time, was dedicated by one of the late president's closest friends, poet Robert Frost, on October 28, 1962 (44).
New athletic facilities (45) were also pro-posed in the 1940s, and they became essential with the postwar student-population explosion. In 1948, the College overcame shortages of both building materials and funds when it received an allocation of half a navy drill hall from the federal government, with the understanding that Kenyon would pay all disassembly, transportation, and reassembly costs. Although the structure arrived from Camp Peary, Virginia, by rail, in thousands of pieces, it was quickly erected on a flat site at the bottom of the hill (46-47). More than fifty years later, Wertheimer Fieldhouse remains a serviceable, if remarkably unlovely and increasingly problematic, athletic facility for the College.
At Kenyon, as on many American campuses, the 1960s were an especially cruel time architecturally, giving us such uncomely masonry boxes as Chalmers Memorial Library, Farr Hall, Gund Residence Hall, and Philip Mather Hall (48). Other buildings of the period, including Dempsey Hall and Bushnell (49) and Manning halls, were at least moderately more successful. Fortunately, a library (50) designed in the 1960s to take the place of Bexley's Colburn Hall went unbuilt.
With the planned introduction of the Coordinate College for Women in 1969, Kenyon set about building an entirely new quadrant of the campus. Designed by the Chicago firm of Perkins and Will to contrast with the geometries of the existing campus, the "women's campus" (51) when completed consisted of three (of an originally planned four) residence halls (Caples, Mather, and McBride) and Gund Commons. (The nine-story Caples, which was topped out in 1971, remains the tallest in Knox County.) At the same time, the College constructed the biology building, Higley Hall (52), also designed by Perkins and Will, and carried out a thorough renovation of Samuel Mather Hall.
In the late 1970s through the early 1990s, Kenyon constructed several important buildings and remodeled many others, including a number of its most historic structures. In 1978, the Bolton Theater (53) opened with a production of Michael Cristofer's C.C. Pyle and the Bunion Derby, directed by Paul Newman '49. In 1982, the Ernst Athletic-Recreation-Convocation Center (54) redefined fitness facilities at the College, and in 1986, Kenyon celebrated the opening of Olin Library (55), designed by the distinguished architect Paul Sun of Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott. In 1993, students first occupied the award-winning Woodland Cottages (56, now the Taft Cottages), designed by Thompson and Rose of Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Last fall, James P. Storer Hall (57), Kenyon's first building designed by Graham Gund, a 1963 alumnus who is now one of the country's preeminent architects, was dedicated, ushering in a new age for music education at the College. Two other buildings by Gund-the chemistry department's Robert J. Tomsich Hall and a new home for the mathematics and physics departments-are under construction, as well as an addition to Higley Hall.
Kenyon: gone or unbuilt
Over the years, there were a number of structures lost to fire that, unlike Rosse Hall and Old Kenyon, were not rebuilt. Chief among these on the main part of campus was Hubbard Hall (58), constructed just south of the chapel as the College's first separate library building in 1885 (although it was originally intended as a gymnasium to be built on the site of Leonard Hall). In 1901, the fireproof Stephens Hall Stack Room was added to the rear of Hubbard Hall-fortunately, it turned out, because Hubbard Hall burned to the ground on January 1, 1910. Although many valuable portraits and historical documents were lost, almost all the books were saved. In place of Hubbard Hall came Alumni Library, which was renamed Ransom Hall in 1958 in honoring of retiring Professor of English John Crowe Ransom, the noted critic and poet and founding editor of the Kenyon Review.
Some notable buildings on campus and in the village simply outlived their usefulness, or stood in the way of "progress," and they were torn down. Those that housed such once-thriving but now-defunct Gambier institutions as the Kenyon Military Academy (59) and the Harcourt Place School for Girls (60) are long since gone, victims of fire or neglect. Among the most notable houses to succumb to the wrecking ball were the ones known as Douglass House (61), the student home of such luminaries as Robert Lowell '40, Peter Taylor '40, and Carl Djerassi '43, which stood on a portion of the Farr Hall site, and "White Wing" (62), named for its designer, the aforementioned Marcus Tullius Cicero Wing), which made way for Gund Commons in the late 1960s. Others include the Gambier train station and a former Clifford Place outbuilding that had been moved at some point to the current site of the Ernst Center.
Still other no-longer-extant structures, such as the barracks (63) that once stood on the site of Lewis, Gund, Norton, and Watson halls, have gone largely unlamented. The army surplus units were erected on the site of the former Harcourt Place School buildings to accommodate the College's influx of students after World War II. Those buildings, along with the once lovely Eubank Place, McIlvaine's home, were demolished to make way for the construction of Lewis and Norton (64) in 1953 and Watson in 1956, all with designs by Charles Bacon Rowley and Meade Spencer. Originally a residence hall for Bexley Hall seminarians, Watson was designed as an L-shaped structure (65), but the northern wing was never built.
A few modest proposals
A campus such as Kenyon's is a gift passed from one generation to the next. As architect Alfred Granger observed more than seventy years ago, "There are two few spots in this hustling, bustling country of ours in which one can drink in the beauty of both the present and the past, renew allegiance to the ideals and traditions of our ancestors, and at the same time feel hopeful for the youth of the future."
This campus is one of those spots. In the time we pass here, we need to be careful, thoughtful stewards of the buildings and grounds that helped create one of the country's most beautiful environments for learning. We need to make sure that succeeding generations look back on this one with appreciation and pride in its accomplishments.
I'll end with the proposals I'll refer to as the three Bs, based on the catchy slogans by which I hope you can remember them.
The first of the three Bs is "Banish the Faux-s!" In the words of a leading expert on historic renovation and restoration, who just happens to be a Kenyon classmate of mine, "Vinyl is for rain hats; aluminum is for leftovers." The College has made progress in treating the exteriors of its older buildings with the dignity they deserve-as in the Crozier Center and Palme House (66)-but we need to do more.
The second B is "Bring back the porches!" Whether it be for ease of maintenance or some other reason, Kenyon has removed the porches from many of those same buildings that have been subjected to artificial siding over the years. As old photographs of Horwitz House, the Student Affairs Center, Walton House, and the Kluge House on Ward Street illustrate, more than a little charm is lost when porches go the way of real wooden siding and real shutters. Like the Adirondack chairs that have become a College symbol, porches still in existence at Kenyon are used and used often, contributing in their own way to community in Gambier.
The third and final B is "Buy Farr a facelift!" Farr Hall is like the weather: Everybody complains about it, but nobody does anything about it. And those complaints are nothing new. They've been around since the building was erected in the 1960s, when townspeople complained that the monolithic structure was out of proportion with other village buildings. A look at the streetscape it replaced, or a glance around downtown Gambier today, makes it clear they were right. Many ideas have been suggested for retrofitting the building to make it both more user-friendly and more viewer-friendly. Let's choose one and get on with it.
THE FUTURE OF THE CAMPUS
What does the future hold for the Kenyon campus? Indeed, we might well ask what does it hold for campuses in general?
These days, with news stories about cyber-universities, catalogs describing online courses, and television commercials for "classes you can take in your jammies," the future of the campus as a physical entity, if not as an ideal, might seem to be in doubt. While some in academe welcome the notion of "campuses without walls," others voice concern about the loss of everyday contact between teachers and students that can be a powerful part of the learning experience. Already, there is a movement afoot to preserve what is being called the "sacred space of the classroom."
With the encroachment of development on all sides of Gambier, acquisition or reacquisition of property contiguous to the campus has been deemed essential if the College is to maintain its rural character -- and thus an important component of its distinctiveness. The necessity was recognized with the incorporation of a $1-million goal for land acquisition, which was quickly met and then surpassed, in Kenyon's $100-million "Claiming Our Place" campaign.
It was also with that necessity in mind that the College's Board of Trustees recently voted to create the Philander Chase Corporation, which will focus on local land-use issues. This "special-purpose entity" will be headed by Douglas L. Givens, who will leave his long-time post as the College's vice president for development in July 2000 to become the corporation's managing director -- and, at least in the beginning, its sole employee. There should be more than enough to keep him busy, though: he has been charged with working closely with economic and regulatory agencies at the local, state, and federal levels to achieve the corporation's goals.
Does the rise of "distance education," with its implication that the idea of a campus as we know it may become a thing of the past, mean that all the attention paid to the built and natural environments at institutions of higher education will be for naught? The prevailing wisdom at Kenyon, as at other residential colleges and universities, is that there will be room for campuses of all kinds -- rural, urban, electronic -- in the higher-education world of the future.
The College is banking on it. The campaign is funding more than $32 million in building projects. Already, there are new facilities for music instruction such as Kenyon has never seen, and the same will be true for the natural sciences -- biology, biochemistry, chemistry, mathematics, molecular biology, neuroscience, physics, and psychology -- within the next year. And discussions of improved facilities for athletics and recreation are proceeding apace, although the fundraising efforts required to bring any additional building plans to fruition have yet to be formulated.
It's difficult to imagine a day when the idea of a college as a physical entity will be obsolete. Campuses around the country, and the College's is prominent among them, are the repositories of some of the nation's most distinguished architecture from colonial times to the present. More importantly, campuses are powerful symbols of the aspirations and ideals of American higher education. And most importantly, campuses are the setting for a special kind of learning, in a community of people who are all, in one way or another, teachers in their daily interactions.
Will Kenyon still exist as a collection of buildings and people on an Ohio hilltop twenty-five, fifty, or one hundred years from now? The future, of course, has a way of surprising us, but I believe it will. The campus ideal, introduced here by Philander Chase almost one hundred seventy-five years ago, will prevail.
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