This past Saturday, Graham Gund ’63 H’81 spoke in the Community Foundation Theater in Gund Gallery about Gund buildings. Sound a little redundant? We thought so, too.
Though we appreciated the famed architect, campus planner and devoted alumnus’s willingness to expand on his love of the arts and his vision for the Kenyon campus, we worry the talk was more like an echo chamber of meaningless praise rather than a productive dialogue.
Although the event was packed wall-to-wall — complete with overflow space in a seminar room upstairs — the audience included few students. (Perhaps 8 p.m. on a Saturday was not an ideal time if the College wanted to encourage student attendance.) Instead, a mixed crowd of alumni, trustees, administrators, faculty and parents overwhelmed the auditorium during the talk and crowded around Gund during the reception.
The conversation, moderated by Bloomberg News co-founder and Editor-in-Chief Emeritus Matthew Winkler ’77 H’00 P’13, swung heavily toward the “bountiful praise” end of the dialogue spectrum. Though Winkler did ask Gund to justify some of his decisions — such as building placement in relation to Middle Path — the conversation generally celebrated Gund’s achievements without a critical review of recent changes on campus.
Winkler announced extra time for audience questions before the reception. But when Ethan Fuirst ’17 asked a question that criticized Gund’s tendency to build similar-looking, “NCA-style” buildings, Gund simply said he was not bothered by it and the audience laughed. Then, Winkler closed the Q&A session.
This is an inappropriately dismissive response to a student concern with the recent building additions to this campus. If Gund wanted to prove to the audience that he cared about such concerns, he should have provided a more thoughtful and meaningful answer and given students the chance to engage with him. We are frustrated that he spurned the opportunity.
At the reception following the talk, students who were strategic had time to ask Gund a question or two before he was whisked away to more approving ears. One Collegian staffer asked Gund what he would say to students who argue trustees are putting their desires for the College before those of current students. Gund sidestepped the question, saying it sounded like something he did not know anything about — another evasive answer, illustrating how out of touch Gund is with the student body.
These moments suggest to us that Saturday’s conversation was not meant for students. It was not meant for the people who live in these apartments, study in these academic buildings and seek support in these community centers.
Students who sought honest answers from one of the main figures driving the majority of changes to campus — and the one with the funds to make significant impacts — were brushed aside. Trustees, influential alumni and senior staff were welcomed with open arms.
They shouldn’t be the only ones.
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