It had to happen eventually, and given that I had a lazy drive through the area, it ended up being last weekend. Yes, after 8 years of refusing to return, I drove through the campus of Cumberland College.
First, yes, I said CC. I was an Indian, not a Patriot. I went to CC, not UofC. Might not be a big deal to some, but it is to me. While there were many things which frustrated me about CC, UofC as it stands now frustrates me even more.
I stayed away a long time, because I knew the changes were things with which I would not agree. I wasn’t disappointed, given that my expectations were already that low.
Those of you who know me, know how I felt about the place. Great education, wonderful friends, memories that will last a lifetime, yet a deeply unsettled heart when I reflect back on those younger days.
And it is not just me, either. A coworker from a few years back was a student during the transition from Boswell to Taylor. Hearing stories of how the president would spend time in the student center grill talking with students, calling them by name and taking a genuine interest in their lives just seemed like a fairy tale to someone who only knew what it was to be a number to the administration.
And so I returned, fearful of the changes of which I had heard, and fearful of the ones that I would discover. Were my fears justified? Did I walk away in a better frame of mind than when I arrived? My, what difficult questions to answer.
First, on a purely aesthetic basis, the new buildings look to be well built and designed with a theme that now runs through nearly all of the school properties. Many of the older dorms and buildings had been updated with elements from the newer designs, making a more unified theme to the place. Lots of columns and red brick, and that is the start of my concerns.
There were two things that really stood out to me on my first visit to the school, back in April of 1994. The first was the presence of the students, how they seemed joyful and really enjoyed the company of everyone around them. The friendliness seemed, and was, genuine, a change from the high school from which I came.
The second thing that just stood out to me was how beautiful the campus was, with its old houses and tree lined lanes. It had a look that reminded me of a well-worn pair of jeans… they fit your feet, were the most comfortable items you owned, and while not brand new, they had a character to them that takes time to create. It wasn’t a ragged or worn out place (well, maybe Mahan and Rob-West, but we’ll disregard those for the sake of argument), but was a place that was home to so many.
I can’t really judge the student population, given that it was summer and no students were walking around on a Sunday afternoon. I haven’t spoken with a CC student in many years, although I must admit to discouraging any and all high schoolers I know of who are considering attending the place, but given some of the Myspace and news reports I’ve heard over the last few years, I doubt the student population has changed all that much in its attitudes and views.
What I could judge is the lack of beauty. Yes, the buildings are majestic, new or refurbished, and generally gleaming. The problem is there are now so many of them, in such a small place. The grass and trees are gone, to be replaced with concrete, brick and blacktop. So much of what nature had imbued into that little corner of the planet has been replaced by the works of man’s hands. And to me, that is just a travesty.
I’ve never been a big fan of nature, given my allergic reactions to nearly anything that is green and grows out of the ground. Spending a weekend outside is one of the last things on my list of things to do. Yet, there is still a part of me that recognizes the importance of green spaces, and not just the small, cordoned off lawns that remain, but the expansive hillsides, the trees under which you could relax and read and the small nooks that existed, if only you knew where to look.
Driving through the place, it just seemed a less cozy place than the one I knew a decade ago. Gone was the beauty which had stolen my heart.
Me being me, I can’t help but think of how I might have done it differently. I understand the pressures that would cause the school to grown and change, and I don’t really have a problem with that, if only the growth had been done in a more responsible way. Instead of massive buildings to alleviate classroom congestion, why not rearrange the schedule and make a better use of the classroom space that exists? Why not invest in alternatives to standard classrooms and put more classes online? How about replanting the old trees if you absolutely had to knock down the old ones for a new building?
But if you have to build, why not do something other than these large buildings? How about smaller complexes that are more modular and can be reconfigured? Instead of a huge new business building, why not rent out unused office space down town? Have the students help manage the rehabilitation of these buildings into a real community, full of local businesses that might encourage students to stay and own once they have graduated.
To me, I find it the height of irony that green space is removed to add in a new expansion to the science building. What little greenery there was near the place is now even less. If you put down concrete over all the wildlife, what is there to study? Lab space is something that obviously can’t be a reconfigurable room, but why not build a new lab building down near the train tracks in the gravel lot that has been vacant for decades?
In the end, it really comes down to a difference in vision. I’m not the president and I can’t set the priorities. Its not a job I would really want anyway, so there would be differences in opinions on what would be best for the school. That said, the institution is a private school that at least gives lip-service to being a Christian organization. I just do not see how a goal of giving a quality, Christian based education translates into replacing God’s beauty for buildings created by man’s hand.
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