Destroying UConn’s Faculty Row — a stupid move

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My family lived along Gilbert Road when father first came to the Connecticut Agricultural College, a school limited to 500 students by the State Legislature.  They moved to a farm just off campus where I grew up. I later worked in industry, in Europe, and began on the Physics faculty in 1971.  I served on the University Senate for years, as well as serving for years on the Research Foundation and the AAUP Executive Committee, including two years as president of the faculty union.  I relate all this in the hope you will have some faith in my recommendation that you institute the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act process to investigate the University of Connecticut’s decision to destroy what remains of Faculty Row.

Once again, the university is attempting to evade it’s responsibility to maintain its historic past, using what sometimes works very well for them – benign neglect, or worse — and then carrying out the deed with as little notice and publicity as possible.  In this case they hid their plans for Faculty Row in their very extensive planning document.  It is clear that the university’s plans for Faculty Row were not brought to the attention of the appropriate people, even though the planning document was a public document.

Was this on purpose? I have become more and more cynical with regard to the covert actions of UConn administrators.  Sometimes the university needs protection from them – or at least transparency, so that decisions can be made with appropriate input, including public input.

Why has my experience with UConn administrators made me cynical?  Let me count the ways! (Actually only a few of them that might relate to current Faculty Row issue:)

1. I recall being at one meeting where the fiscal vice president spoke of taking down a (probably late) 1700s home.  He was asked if it wasn’t on the historic register.  His reply was that he would check on that after the building was taken down!

2. Another fiscal vice president, Harry Hartley, let the fire department burn down the Farwell/Jacobson house (another house from the 1700s, I believe) for practice – lovely chestnut beams and old wavy windows  all gone.  UConn has been wanting to take down the rest of Faculty Row for years, saying they are too expensive to maintain (same administrator as in 1). Now they are saying it would take $1 million per house to renovate them. A ridiculous amount!

3. I did participate in the effort that saved the National Register Farwell/Jacobson barn.  We contributed to a lift and placed tarps over the rotting portions of the roof, with the press present. The publicity forced UConn to rethink their position on that one.  UConn put a new roof on and painted the barn, perhaps 20 years ago.  Perhaps the CEPA process could engender a similar change of heart with regard to the Faculty Row houses.

4.  The Ash House, which literally rotted away while a local man was asking whether, or not, he might save it.  When he finally received permission to “move” the house, the foundation stones were nearly the only things worth saving.

I love UConn, and after a lifetime affiliation with it and Storrs, I am always hurt when the university does stupid things.

Quentin Kessel, Ph.D., is a retired University of Connecticut physics professor.

What do you think?

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