Louis Hannegan, Managing Editor
After months of work and a few rocky weeks of class-wide debate, the Senior Committee recently decided on a slightly larger than life-size bronze statue of a groundhog as the 2013 class gift.
“We’ve been looking into artists in the DFW area who could be commissioned to do the work, but we’re being very selective because we want the groundhog to look natural, and not ‘cartoony,’” Senior Committee Co-Chair Claire Eastaway said.
Though the Senior Committee does not decide the location of such a gift, Eastaway said university president Thomas Keefe plans to place the statue in a “prominent” location on campus.
Eastaway expects the statue will cost about $20,000, though she and her co-chairman Anna Heimes, who was elected by the junior representatives last year and who appointed Eastaway co-chair, are hoping to cut that cost. The final price will largely depend on the size of the statue since the bronze required is the largest chunk of the cost.
As a backup plan in case not enough money is raised, the Senior Committee has selected bronze plaques with quotes related to the University of Dallas’ spiritual and intellectual heritage.
The idea of a groundhog statue was suggested to the Senior Committee at the beginning of this semester by a student and was well-received by Eastaway and Heimes, along with the senior class representatives who are “ex officio” members of the Senior Committee.
“[T]he groundhog statue seemed like a wonderful idea,” Eastaway said. “This year is the 50th anniversary of Groundhog, so the timing couldn’t have been better for a fundraising campaign. Most of the donations we receive for senior gift are from alumni, not from current seniors.”
“[The statue] was apropos, and we thought that fundraising from alumni (the greatest donors for a senior gift) would be effective, given the university/Advancement’s push this year to market the event nationwide,” said Student Government president Renee Davis, who is not part of the Senior Committee but to whom the Senior Committee is accountable, as well as to the other members of the executive council.
The statue’s connection with Groundhog Day has earned it support from some seniors as well.
“I think this is a great opportunity to commemorate what has been so many students’ and alumni’s favorite UD tradition,” history major Tara McCrorey said. “Groundhog certainly doesn’t define our school, but it was begun by students, and there’s obviously a reason it’s made it to ‘50 years.’ It’s a big deal!”
“Put yourself 50 years into the future, when UD celebrates 100 years of Groundhog. The real spirit of Groundhog is getting together with your friends, and there will be no poem, novel or historic figure that will be more influential in your life than the people you interact with, especially the people you meet at the University of Dallas,” added math major Matthias Andrews.
A very significant number of seniors, and students generally, however, have taken serious issue with the idea of a groundhog statue on campus.
“The groundhog only has meaning for us as the name of one of our traditions, nothing more,” said English-theology double major Rob Sherron.
“Groundhog is a great tradition, but it is not Groundhog that makes this university so great. Surely, UD wouldn’t be the same without our traditions, but it is primarily the amazing curriculum and the strong Catholic identity of this school that make it what it is,” said biology major David Ramirez.
History major Justin Foard said that the statue is a “poor reflection of the genuine mission of the University of Dallas. Our class should represent a clarion call for a Western revival, not another collegiate fascination with a trivial animal mascot.”
Davis, who as SG president presents the Senior Committee gift ideas to the university president, said Keefe was “very enthusiastic” about the idea.
During that meeting late last month, Davis also presented to the president other class gift ideas that had been suggested by students who did not share such enthusiasm. These included a statue of a saint, blessed or intellectual figure – such as St. Thomas Aquinas, Blessed Pope John Paul II or Dante – and the plaques, the current back-up plan.
“At times, people make assumptions that the University of Dallas, because it is so academically rigorous, because it is so faithful to its faith, is somehow, someway not a very fun or interesting place,” Keefe said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. We need to make sure that the rest of the world knows that because we’re scholars, because we are faithful to our faith, doesn’t mean that we are any less red-blooded and joyful and vigorous.
“I’d love to see a statue on campus that students walk by and rub its nose, and rub its head for luck before they go into a test, or before they call up a girl for a date.
“I don’t want to make this campus a path of grottos that we go from one statue to another statue, of one saint to another,” Keefe said, speaking about the other gift ideas.
“They’re certainly appropriate, but this is also a college campus and there is a variety of activities that go on on campus. I wouldn’t put a statue of a saint next to a parking lot, or next to a place where students have an occasion to drink beer on campus even when they’re not supposed to. I wouldn’t put it in a place where it wouldn’t receive the appropriate respect,” he said.
Keefe emphasized that though he personally likes the idea of a groundhog statue, the gift is and should be a student initiative.
“The gift idea didn’t originate with the administration. The class certainly has the right to do what they want to do,” Keefe said. “We would gratefully accept whatever gift they want to give to us. Statues, plaques – all of that is certainly acceptable. This isn’t about liking one thing over another. This is about an opportunity for the class to make a gift and have a legacy impact on the university.”
When asked if the strong opposition of many students to a groundhog statue on campus affected his endorsement of the idea or gave him pause in thinking the committee should move ahead with the plan, Keefe said, “The senior class should give what they are excited about.”
Though a student initiative, the process of choosing a senior gift is one in which the administration has had a guiding hand.
As Keefe explained, “The university provides [the Senior Committee] with insight as to how the gift could be used or would be used. Any gift that we receive, whether it be the senior class gift or from anybody, anybody who wants to give us a tangible object has to be accepted because it will fit into the university campus and culture.”
Keefe said that the same negotiations that apply to any donation also apply to the senior class gift.
“A donor says they want to give us a gift. We make sure that the gift does not fly in the face of the mission, vision, values of the university. We also make sure that the university has the financial capacity of accepting the gift and maintaining the gift. Thirdly, if it’s a statue or a if it’s a tangible object that needs to be erected, we need to have an appropriate spot for it that would be respectful of the nature of the gift.”
“Ultimately, it is President Keefe who approves or denies the senior class gift,” said Eastaway.
Some students have expressed frustration over the administration’s involvement.
“The primary problem, however, seems to be the administration’s adamancy that, regardless of what the senior class of 2013 wants to give the school, they will be giving it a groundhog. Such has been the discourse as relayed to us by SG in their discussions with the president,” Sherron said, commenting on the selection process over the last few months.
“Given that the administration is effectively choosing the gift for itself, it’s hard to see how it relates to our class,” said philosophy major Andrew Christman.
But others expressed support for the administration’s role in decision-making.
“The senior gift is unlike any sort of conventional gift that has a gift-receipt or re-gifting option,” Andrews said. “Instead, we are giving a gift to an institution that has a longer-term vision that goes beyond the next year or two.”
Apart from its extensive involvement in the selection of and fundraising for the class gift, the Senior Committee also organizes other events, such as the senior send-off at Club Schmitz last Friday for December graduates. They also give to the university president nominations for the commencement speaker, elect the Groundhog King and Queen, host the Champagne Breakfast, and come up with senior superlatives, among many other responsibilities.
“I am proud of the work our class has done so far, and I am excited that this year provides us with wonderful opportunities to come together and celebrate our time at this fantastic university,” Davis said. “I hope that as spring rolls around everyone will come to the exciting events we have planned!”