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Gund talk shows trustees are out of touch

Master Plan more in touch with Gund’s ego than student needs.

On Saturday, Feb. 25, I attended “A Conversation with Graham Gund ’63 H’81,” part of the Kenyon Unique Lectureship Series. While the name of the program suggests praise for diversity, the majority of speakers hosted have been white men. Although there was an overflow room I didn’t observe, the crowd within the Gund Gallery Community Foundation Theater was a mixture of primarily faculty and staff, with a few students.

President Sean Decatur and Matthew Winkler ’77 H’00 P’13, the moderator for the talk and a member of the Board of Trustees, went to great lengths to praise both Gund and his architectural work through GUND Partnership, the architectural firm he founded. The talk, which incorporated video clips to highlight his various architecture projects on campus, would have been very effective to an audience with no experience at Kenyon. If I had never lived and worked on this campus, I would have nodded my head at the idea of a man passionate about his alma mater who was a dedicated preservationist and had the student in mind. What I observed, however, directly contradicted the lived experience of Kenyon students.

Regarding Peirce Dining Hall, Gund seemed displeased that there were condiments in the dining rooms and even more distraught at the distracting nature of dining tables in the atrium, which he claims is “not a space issue.” This I found laughable. When events take place in the Alumni Dining Room and other rooms of Peirce, there is no room for students. More groups sitting together at one table, as Gund suggests, only goes so far. I would love to see Gund try to find a table during the noon lunch rush.

Gund’s lack of sympathy for students didn’t stop at the talk. During the reception that followed, I got a moment to speak with him. When I asked about the prioritization of accessibility in terms of the Master Plan, I felt Gund brushed off my question, who didn’t understand why, as an Anthropology major, I was concerned about the accessibility in buildings like Ascension. Gund was then whisked away by a woman who was also involved in the lecture before I could respond. It seemed that, while the talk was seemingly marketed to students, it was yet another excuse for the administration and Board of Trustees to give themselves a pat on the back for a job well done.

Gund, adamant about the idea that buildings should be made to last, was repeatedly referred to as a “preservationist” by Winkler. This is a contradictory thought from the man who built Gund Gallery, which had its roof replaced after just two years, and the North Campus Apartments — which, from my own experience, have walls that tremble when a door is closed just a little too hard. Gund was clear that he thought some architectural mistakes had been made on our campus.

One has to wonder if, in 50 or 100 years, another affluent alumnus won’t come around and decide all of Gund’s building had been a mistake — that is, if his buildings are built well enough to last that long. I think it’s wrong to attribute preservationist ideals to a man who was so willing to tear down the Black Box Theater and Sunset Cottage. Before the construction of Farr Hall, Gund explained that the site was formerly five buildings. After Farr’s removal, the proposed replacement consists of four. In a skewed way, Gund envisions the Master Plan as restoring some kind of former glory to the campus.

During the talk, Winkler turned the focus on art, particularly Gund’s personal collection and and how it informs his designs. While the circle of light at the KAC may be aesthetically pleasing, the plain, white-washed buildings like Lentz House and the NCAs are not the kind of beautiful ideal of art Gund and Winkler seemed to be focusing on. Why, if art creates a sense of welcoming, as Gund seemed to suggest, do the interiors of every building — particularly the Cox Health and Counseling Center, where people may need the most comfort — lack any art? The Village Council claimed the former Black Box had no architectural significance, but will the new market, designed by Gund and standing in the former site of the Black Box, provide anything noteworthy in terms of architecture? Since the designs suggest a carbon-copy of the North Campus Apartments, one can assume not.

I didn’t get to ask this question of him, so one thing looms heavily on my mind. Whom exactly does Gund envision his Master Plan is for? With complete disregard for the needs and wants of current students and a strange vision for the future usage of his buildings, is his design simply the daydream of a rich alumnus, a kind of attempt at self-immortalization? I don’t mean to make a monster of a man — certainly Gund has become almost a caricature of himself in the eyes of many students. Instead, what I see in Graham Gund is another example of the wealthy holding the power. If Kenyon tells me anything by their unabashed praise and support of Gund, it’s the golden rule. Whoever has the gold at Kenyon makes the rules.

Reagan Neviska ’17 is an anthropology major from Fredricktown, Ohio. Contact her at neviskar@kenyon.edu.