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Monday, March 03, 2008

Governor's surrender

Plan to tear down NIU building is selling out to violence

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

You've got to hand it to Gov. Rod Blagojevich. He sure knows how to keep everyone off balance, whether it's proposing to drag the state deeper into the financial pit with unexpected and unaffordable new programs, purchasing Wrigley Field when there's no need, or, now, signing on to raze the lecture hall where five Northern Illinois University students were fatally shot and replace it with a new classroom and memorial building, at a mere cost of $40 million.

Who knows what foolishness he'll surprise us with next. Maybe he'll dissolve the legislature, much as English monarchs of yore did when displeased with parliament.

An NIU memorial is so obviously wrong that Blagojevich's spokeswoman quickly said the idea wasn't his; he was reflecting campus opinion. Someone needs to tell the campus that, even in grief, it's wrongheaded. For me, it's caving in to the whims of a mad gunman. "Look, Mom and Dad," students could tell their visiting folks, "here's where [crazy man's name deleted by the columnist] shot all those kids. Isn't that interesting?"

For taxpayers, it would be an unconscionable waste of good money, especially when the campus has been waiting years for $20 million to renovate the Stevens Building, which houses the anthropology department and theater program.

Nonetheless, Blagojevich will ask the General Assembly to immediately cough up the $40 million for replacing Cole Hall, the scene of the killings. Apparently, he considers it just a formality; he announced at a news conference that the hall "will" be demolished.

Some legislators seem chary, urging thought before rushing ahead; perhaps they were too afraid of "offending" by saying what really needs to be said about the profligate idea. Naturally, Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago) jumped right on board, saying he supports the governor's proposal. The idea also has the support of NIU President John Peters, who said students and others had urged him to push for the building's removal and to "consecrate" the site. "I talked to a lot of people, and very early on I made the decision that we had to raze that ... building and replace it with something fitting ... our needs and as a memorial," Peters said.

I think the whole bunch badly needs a course in leadership. Cole Hall seems to be a functional building. Its replacement would require the construction of at least two 500-seat lecture halls. And we can hardly wait for the artistic competition to decide what best "memorializes" the shootings.

Not that history survives as a pre-eminent course of study at many universities, but perhaps we might recall the University of Texas clock tower. From the tower's observation deck, sitting atop the university's 27-story Main Building, a barricaded student shot and killed more than a dozen people and wounded many others on the campus below. The 307-foot-high tower, one of the tallest buildings in Austin, was the scene of the nation's first mass killing of its type. The gunman fired his rifle for more than 1 1/2 hours before a policeman penetrated the barricades and shot him dead.

That was in 1966. And the tower still stands. And the observation deck remains open. (It was closed in 1974 because nine people committed suicide by throwing themselves from the deck; it reopened in 1999, with safety bars installed.)

Today, believe it or not, tours are conducted. Not so much because of the gruesome spectacle that happened there, but rather because it is the centerpiece of a 1937 campus master plan, an Austin landmark and an important symbol of learning. When the school reopened the observation deck, the university president, Larry Faulkner, said something important. He called the tower the "most important symbol of academic aspiration and achievement in Texas. [It is time to] actively use this icon of higher education in positive ways."

Although Cole Hall is something of a campus centerpiece, few would argue that it has the cachet of the Austin tower. Yet, it symbolizes something as important as the tower, something about the higher aspirations of mankind and something that should stand in the face of the lunacy that occurred there. Tearing it down would be surrender.


Anonymous said...

Based solely on his comments, it seems as if NIU President Peters is performing a bit like a reactionary politician by making a replace-Cole-Hall request as soon as he has after the incident. It seems like a knee-jerk reaction that a politician might make in order to have some positive press.

If Peters wants to build a monument, take a couple thousand out of his budget and put something out in front of Cole Hall. If he needs some ideas, tell him to take a trip to Jersey City and tour the very subtle and very compelling 9/11 tributes that dot the landscape.

And what did Peters mean when he said that he wanted to “raze that ... building and replace it with something fitting ... our needs”? If Cole Hall does not meet his needs and those of the NIU student body then what are his needs? Maybe he needs a moment to steady himself and think clearly and a bit less emotionally.

The longer I think of this idea, the more I think that there is another motive involved of which I am not yet aware.

D said...

I used a similar argument last week online- that the main building of The University of Texas at Austin is still standing, over forty years after 14 people were killed... great minds must think alike.

I'll go one step further- Have they torn down Columbine or Virginia Tech?

Why they feel this is necessary is beyond me.

I mean, sure, they razed the scene of the schoolhouse shooting in Amish country, but that was a little different- that was a one-room wooden schoolhouse.

Just like what he did with the free rides for seniors, Blagojevich is pandering. Here's to hoping not only the faculty/staff but also the students know a pile of bs with a bad hairdo when they see it.

From what I understand, the building was already a bit run-down, and- I hope I'm wrong, but- a small part of me thinks that perhaps the Dean is using this tragedy as an excuse to get taxpayers to pay for something the school would've otherwise had to pay for.

It makes sense- milk this tragedy to upgrade your facility... the new building will of course be state-of-the-art, replete with every option that (taxpayer) money can buy... they can put in things that weren't available when Cole Hall was built, and would be expensive, if not impossible, to retrofit.

But to utilize this tragedy to tear down an old building to replace it with a whizbang new one reeks of ulterior motive, and does not really honor the students that suffered and died that day.

You know that for $40 million (if they can even keep it to the budget, which will never happen), it'll be state-of the art- the building will be loaded- prewired for high-speed intra/internet, probably wireless at that, LCD projectors in every classroom, not to mention smartboards and pretty much any other tech you can imagine.

Yes, a tragedy happened, several young people lost their lives, and still others will have scars for the rest of their lives, and I am not insensitive to that, but to talk about tearing down the building is a little extreme and dare I say- its still a bit too soon to start talking about it.

Anonymous said...

As a family friend of the Dubowski's - I believe that Gayle would be deeply saddened by such a blatant waste of funds. She spent weeks every summer with our oldest daughter and a group of other adults and kids working at the ASP (Appalachia service project) sites. They sacraficed their summer vacations from school so that others may have suitable living conditions in an impoverished area of the US. I truly believe that she would not want her name attached to such a unnecessary "misuse" of money. Money that could be used for real causes, and provide real ehlp to those she so unselfishly served in the 20 years that she was here with us. I do not know Joe, Laurel or Ryan's (her familys) opinions and am only speaking on what I think from knowing Gayle's character and love for others. However, i would hope that the parents of the victims would at least be asked, at the appropriate time, what they thought. Please tell the Govenor to think twice before attaching the victims names to this crazy agenda of his - and that goes for the university presidnet too. Shame on them for not thinking of using this money for scholarships in these 5 students names - 40 million could provide a whole lot of underpriviliged kids a college education. Come on guys...
rip it down and he (the shooter) wins... so true!

Anonymous said...

The Northern Star's editor in chief wrote a similar editorial last Wednesday:

Anonymous said...

email(unedited) to all NIU students, faculty & staff on March 4, 2008:
Dear Students and Colleagues,

It has been nearly three weeks since the tragic events of February 14.
It would be unreasonable to expect our campus to have moved on
without remnants of fear, anxiety or grief. Our family has been injured, and
we turn inward to comfort each other and gather strength for the
journey ahead. The tremendous response from across our campus and the
overwhelming appreciation we have gained for each other is a testament to
the strong sense of community that defines NIU.

All of us have seen wonderful expressions of caring over the past few
weeks - kindnesses both large and small, from people we see every day
and people we have never met. The outpouring of support from far and
near has been a great inspiration, and we remain indebted to all who have
offered a hand in our time of need - counselors, religious leaders,
community members, colleagues from across the country - all those who
have reached out have offered a healing touch at a difficult time. We can
never repay them, but we can and must offer our heartfelt thanks for
their generosity.

Even as we acknowledge our loss and express our gratitude we must also
look forward, as we have family business to attend to. Three key
issues present themselves for our consideration:

First, we must decide how we want to memorialize that which has been
lost - precious lives, a sense of security, our belief in the sanctity of
an open campus. Part of our healing process must involve a family
discussion about these issues and how to express our feelings through a
permanent legacy. Our goal is to create a special place on our campus
where generations of the NIU family can come to remember those we lost
and reflect on what we can each do to honor their legacy. To that end, I
am forming a February 14th Memorial Committee, chaired by Vice
President for Advancement Mike Malone and including students, faculty, staff,
families and alumni, to solicit opinions and develop ideas for a
fitting memorial. That memorial will be made possible through private
donations and will represent the best thinking of a broad-based NIU group.

Second, we must address the very real space needs brought about by the
closure of Cole Hall. Much has been written on this topic in recent
days, but little of that discourse has come from our campus community. I
want to make sure that the most important voices in this debate -
those of our students, faculty and staff - are heard and heeded. Student
government is already working on this issue, gathering opinions and
discussing options. Provost Ray Alden and Paul Stoddard, executive
secretary of the University Council are likewise assessing campus views on
our immediate, mid-range and long-term space needs related to the closure
of Cole Hall. The domino-effect of class space reallocation has
impacted nearly 10,000 students in more than 150 class sections. The
Provost's work group, consisting of faculty, staff and students, is looking
carefully at all of the details involved in short- medium- and long-term
replacement of instructional space lost in the Cole Hall closure.

Third, we must engage in a campus-wide discussion about the future of
Cole Hall. Immediately following the tragic shootings on February 14,
we closed Cole Hall through the end of this fiscal year. We now face
the question of what to do with this facility in the future. Our answer
should represent a consensus opinion formulated by all members of our
campus community. We must decide whether to remove the building or
keep it; to reopen it in its present form or change its purpose or
configuration. Any decision carries emotional and financial costs. I have
expressed my own view that we should decommission Cole Hall as a
classroom building. I made that judgment after talking with scores of
students, parents, faculty and alumni who told me they could not fathom
returning to Cole Hall to teach or study. In the days that have followed that
tragic event, different voices and opinions have emerged, and we must
take in all those viewpoints before moving forward. In the spirit of
shared governance, I pledge to do all I can to facilitate the expression
of all opinions. To that end, we have established a confidential
email mailbox ( to which any and all members of our
community may submit opinions. Ultimately, our decisions on an appropriate
memorial, reassignment of classroom spaces and the future of Cole Hall
must address both the emotional and practical considerations we face as
an injured but united campus community.

Once consensus is reached, it will be up to the NIU family to
communicate our needs to our state leaders and ask for assistance in meeting
those needs. We know all too well the fiscal constraints facing our
state, and we remain mindful of that reality even as we advocate for our
campus. I remain confident that our elected officials and the citizens of
this state will step forward at the appropriate time to assist NIU in
addressing our classroom space issues.

Finally, I want to thank all of you for the efforts you have made to
welcome back our students and resume our university life following our
tragedy. We are by no means done with our grieving, and we know that
healing is a long journey with many bumps along the way. Yet I could not
be more proud of this wonderful NIU family. We have found the best in
ourselves and in each other - let us never forget that. I remain, as
always, in your debt and most grateful to be a part of NIU.


John G. Peters