Teresa Shumay, Contributing Writer
The University of Dallas has struggled to improve its reputation for too long against the beige and aging walls of an unsightly campus. The campus has its moments (blossom time, for example) and its beautiful sights, but, as the strategic planning committee has correctly discerned, UD’s campus, as it stands now, is not one of the university’s selling points. The campus needs to be refreshed, but if the committee really wants to build up the university, it must avoid generic improvements and make the campus enduringly beautiful and redolent of the institution itself.
UD’s campus should draw on the styles of architecture and art that rise from the same tradition as its academics do. Why should we study the greatest thinkers of Western civilization on a campus that is aesthetically divorced from them? One of the reasons the Core Curriculum comes together for students so clearly in Rome is the unity between the aesthetics of the place and the beauty and greatness of the truths studied there.
Such a unity on the Irving campus does not necessitate a UD replica of the Pantheon, but instead, a preference for the beautiful and meaningful above the au courant. The improvements implemented up to this point have resulted in a Haggar visitor’s center as nice and as mainstream as the waiting room in a dentist’s office. In 10 years, when the newness wears off, we’ll need to renovate again.
Building in a style that is timeless and beautiful may require a greater immediate investment than more temporary improvements. But enduring architecture contributes to the sense of tradition and legacy that every university strives to cultivate. Build it simply, if you must, to cut the cost, but build it beautifully to inspire through the years.
For a cash-strapped university like UD, the opportunities to build may be few. But the same principles that apply to large-scale construction apply to minor improvements on campus as well. The new wooden podia in Braniff were greatly appreciated; the plastic, wheelie chairs in B301 were not. The seats in the Gorman lecture theaters, where students spend so much of their time, are still ugly and worn to pieces—but at least Haggar has a flat-screen TV to tell us what the weather is.
UD is ready for campus improvements big and small. As the strategic planning committee makes its plan, the starting point should be the unique character of the University of Dallas. Here in this unremarkable Texas city, there is a university that is deeply Catholic, firmly grounded in the Western tradition and composed of a vibrant student body of young men and women who have become part of a great legacy.
Beginning with this understanding, coupled with the priority of the beautiful over the new, the committee can strengthen the university’s reputation and give it a fighting chance against the beige.