A Tragedy of the Commons

Dear Editor:

The occupants of the McKee building are stuck like a needle on a scratched record. A renovation project set for January 2002 remains stalled as bids for various construction contracts remain “at-large.” Despite the lack of any contracts to begin demolition or renovation, we were told to be ready to relocate by December 15, 2001. Faculty, staff, and students packed offices, carted personal effects home, but retained offices in McKee because other construction bottlenecks on campus prohibited their shuffle into temporary space in Killian. After the New Year the move was changed to spring break, and then again this week to March 18, 2002. The result: McKee is a ghost town. The building stands with empty halls, classrooms without desks, doors with changed locks, and a vacant second floor ‘lounge.’

Let us not simplify terminology; students knew this lounge as the Commons Room. Undergraduates, graduates, staff and faculty from various departments conversed over brown-bagged lunches, and refreshments often made available by the student-run History Club. But the Commons represented more than a place to eat. Community members in all stages of their academic careers congregated prior to, for and after classes in the Commons to share ideas and educate one another. As I recall, over the last semester WCU sponsored gatherings to discuss our community and retention. Did it dawn on the participants attempting to define community that it was being dismantled as they spoke? Will the University’s master plan eventually find the micro-community that houses Bob’s, the Mad Batter, and “The Mayor’s” barbershop insignificant?

The process currently affecting the occupants of the McKee building is outrageous. Professors are stuck in limbo, with their materials scattered across the Cullowhee community for at least the next year. Professors worry that as the advisory period approaches, the relocation will complicate their ability to serve their advisees.

Students have lost a valuable aspect of their education, and there remains no guarantee of a Commons Room in the “New McKee.” No longer do students come into contact with each other or their professors as they did before the “partial move.” Instead they feel restrained by the planned deconstruction of a community.

I must praise the efforts of my fellow students for their activism. In the past two months they collected signatures and secured WCU Senate Resolution 2135 in support of a Commons Room in the renovated building. In the next week the petition to save the Commons, signed by 120 students and faculty, will be presented to the University Administration. These acts confirm that I was not alone in my opinion of the Commons.

I wish I could say the disorder will not touch another department or building, but it will. We cannot escape growing pains. I hope that the controlling entities consider a different cost benefit analysis in the future and include intangibles like the Commons. Such an effort would lessen future disruptions to communities like the one I enjoyed and now miss.


Chris ManganielloHistory Student and Community Member