“It is, sir, as I have said, a small college. And yet there are those who love it!”
This year, the Usdan Campus Center was introduced as a substitute for that venerable old institution known as McConaughey Hall, or MoCon. Those of us who spent our freshman years entwined in MoCon’s chaotic embrace, which forever smelt of mediocre Aramark food and carried the eternal clang of dropped cups, responded with ambivalence. How could this new, shiny, almost clinically clean building, whose atmosphere barely outmatched Pluto’s, hope to compete with darling old MoCon? It was a tall order, and one which I am sorry to say that the Usdan Campus Center has failed to fill. With no disrespect intended to those who work in the building, who at least add some measure of humanity to the otherwise sterile edifice, Usdan has proven to be more an object of resignation and disappointment than of enthusiastic acceptance. One would think that the Wesleyan Administration, headed as it is by a new President, might look at this particular example of student discontent as a learning experience.
And yet it appears that, without even stopping to breathe from the effort of constructing Usdan, the Wesleyan Administration now wants to destroy another treasured building on the Wesleyan Campus. Naturally, I refer to Shanklin Lab.
This time, the student body appears to not be quite so blindsided. A group of students led by one Izaak Orlansky, in fact, seems dead set on stopping this cavalier destruction of Wesleyan’s history. Bravo. Though I had originally thought that Martin Benjamin ’57’s designation of President Roth as “Choo choo” Roth was a tad unfair, I now see exactly what Mr. Benjamin meant. Roth may not bear much physical resemblance to a “Choo choo train”, but he certainly seems intent on railroading this blasphemy against the campus past our collective gasping faces with, as Mr. Benjamin says, “a toot toot here and a toot toot there.”
I cannot speak for the student body — unlike certain members of the community, I lack the brazenness to make such an extraordinary claim — but I will say that from my perspective, the students ought to make every effort to throw a monkey wrench in the gears of the train which President Roth appears intent on driving through both our endowment and our campus’ legacy.
The argument one hears defending the demolition most frequently is that Shanklin itself no longer serves the purpose it was erected to serve — put simply, the building is dated and it would be more efficient both spatially and logistically to build a new, sparkling molecular and life sciences building to compensate for the failures of Shanklin, rather than trying to renovate an aging building with mixed success. In the first place, the mere fact of Shanklin’s datedness is no reason to destroy it — one hardly would expect the administrators at Harvard to demolish Harvard Hall because its 1700’s-era structure no longer accommodates administrative functions perfectly. Moreover, as the article in Friday’s Argus points out, the cost of repairing Shanklin is roughly equivalent with the cost of building its replacement, so with that in mind, one has to consider the benefits of both buildings regardless of the costs. Presumably, the proposed building would trump Shanklin in terms of efficiency, so does Shanklin offer any benefits other than efficiency?
The answer is plainly that it does. To begin with, there is the question of aesthetics. As anyone who has looked at the plans for the new building and compared them with Shanklin knows, Shanklin is a vastly more attractive structure than what these architects have proposed to erect. Despite being built in 1928, Shanklin’s venerable red brick evokes thoughts of similar buildings with histories dating back centuries. Harvard Hall at Harvard and the Old Campus at Yale come to mind. By contrast, the new building appears to have its architectural roots drawn from some unholy mixture of Soviet Russia and the Galactic Empire from Star Wars, being constructed from stark concrete with an entirely minimalist décor. Let us not forget that prospective undergrads do take aesthetics into account when they visit a college, and would most likely be substantially put off by the thought of studying in the architectural equivalent of the Death Star.
Furthermore, as Mr. Orlanksy has already pointed out, Shanklin is a piece of the campus’ history, and history is another element of a college which can attract undergraduates as well as bring in alumni donations. With regard to undergrads, I am sure that certain budding scientists might enjoy the feeling of sitting in the same seat and working with the same chemicals as someone whose name has not appeared on a transcript since 1930. The sense that one is part of a venerable history is what often attracts students to a college, and as such, retaining reminders of that same venerable history is always a good policy.
With regard to alumni, what would the hypothetical Molecular Biology major who graduated in, say, 1930 say if he found that the building where he first experienced the wonders of his craft was demolished because of a fiscally dubious plan to increase the efficiency of the campus? Speaking as a former fundraiser for the Red and Black society, I can say that older alumni feel precious little connection to the current campus as it is — must we also tear down the only elements of the campus which are still familiar to them?
Finally, there is the point that the students and professors who work in Shanklin appear to love the building and see no reason to change. And what if we were to change? The destruction of Shanklin would probably take at least a year to complete successfully, depriving Molecular and Life Science students of a functional laboratory for that same year, and then the construction would probably take an equivalent amount of time! Must we really inconvenience several academic departments simply because President Roth feels intent on building shiny new buildings in the absence of any genuine academic vision? I say no, and so I invite every student who reads this column to join me with great pride in declaring themselves Shanklinistas.