From Jonathan Veitch



Building Out From Within

Over the last 18 months, we wrapped up three major projects that have reimagined space inside existing College buildings: Swan Hall, the Rose Hills Foundation Student Activities Center in Johnson Student Center, and the McKinnon Center for Global Affairs in Johnson Hall. Each of these beautiful spaces meets a longstanding need for state-of-the-art classrooms; centralized, highly visible student programming facilities; better offices worthy of our faculty; and more community space. Already, the Choi Auditorium (what many of you will remember as Johnson 200) and its stunning blend of new and old has become one of the most popular spaces on campus, just as the tables and chairs on the patio outside Dumke Commons in Swan are always full.

 

In each of these projects, we have preserved one of Oxy's biggest physical assets—Myron Hunt's Beaux Arts architectural vision—while creating an exciting new synthesis of design and technology and teaching, learning, and research. (Almost all of it paid for, I would add, through the generosity of donors and bond proceeds made possible by Oxy's strong Aa3 bond rating, which has held steady throughout the recession.) What better symbolizes the liberal arts than this innovative combination of the classic and the new?

But ultimately these spaces themselves are just that—spaces. It's what happens in them that really matters. And much is happening. It was in the McKinnon Center that Sanjeev Khagram—the John Parke Young Professor of Global Political Economy—and his talented students received the exciting news that Oxy has been selected to host a TEDx conference this spring on "Reinventing the American Dream." (TED, the 30-year-old nonprofit devoted to "Ideas Worth Spreading," launched the TEDx program to create the opportunity to stimulate interdisciplinary dialogue through independently organized TED-like experiences at the local level.) Across the Quad in Swan Hall, Martha Ronk—the Irma and Jay Price Professor of English Literature—was recently named as a finalist for the 2013 National Book Award for poetry for her latest collection, Transfer of Qualities. And the work of the Office of Civic Engagement, which is now located in the Rose Hills Center, has led to Oxy being named one of 70 colleges and universities designated as a "Lead Institution" by student affairs administrators. As such, the College will participate in a national initiative on civic learning and democratic engagement.

Even more importantly, Swan Hall, the Rose Hills Center, and the McKinnon Center are the places where the day-to-day work of the liberal arts gets done. Classes and first-year seminars are taught. Passionate conversations begun in classrooms continue in hallways, lounges, lobbies, and stairwells. Books and articles, in printed and electronic form, are read in every conceivable place and posture. Pencils plow through problem sets. Papers are written and graded. Office hours are held, questions answered, points clarified, and new questions asked. Academic collaborations among students, among faculty, among faculty and students, are formed and re-formed. Collaborations with community partners are fostered. Internships that can shape a career or send it spinning off in an unexpected new direction are lined up. Friendships and mentorships blossom. Senior comps take shape. Real learning takes place.

And we're not finished. Planning and fundraising are well underway to transform the Mary Norton Clapp Library into the Academic Commons. In the digital era, no place on campus has been more rapidly transformed than the college library. As we reinterpret the great tradition of the liberal arts and sciences for the 21st century, we recognize that the library will serve as the most influential space on campus. By reimagining the physical space in Clapp Library, we can increase our capacity to support faculty and student scholarship; improve access to, and delivery of, resources and academic support services; and more fully integrate Occidental's scholarly life.

When we are done, the Academic Commons will be better equipped to serve as the intellectual heart of the College, simultaneously keeping alive the culture of the book while embracing the most compelling aspects of the digital revolution. As we have done elsewhere, the Academic Commons will combine the best of the old and the new to make sure that the day-to-day work of the liberal arts continues to get done—and done to Oxy standards.
 
Jonathan Veitch, President