"TU has lost a sense of belonging to Tulsa"

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Dan Weber, a senior at the University of Tulsa, has a column in the school's student newspaper, The Collegian, about the impact of TU's campus expansion and its efforts to attract more residential students on its relationship with the city from which it takes its name:

[The class of 2009 has] lived out our four years in a transitional setting, hemmed in by orange barrels, while the administration finally realized its long-awaited opportunity to recast the campus image.

Now construction is essentially complete (since the financial crisis has remaining projects on hiatus) and we're finally inhabiting the more residential and attractive campus that's supposed to aid TU's obstinate struggle to breach the hallowed U.S. News Top 50.

We seniors, then, are uniquely able to appreciate what the campus has gained and lost in the process to attract all those precious National Merit Scholars.

TU has lost a sense of belonging to Tulsa and gained the feeling of a glorified boarding school for students from Texas and Missouri.

Weber mentions Starship Records and the Metro Diner, once on 11th St but demolished to make way for TU's new grand entrance on 11th St., the University having decided that its grand entrance on Delaware Ave. (the U) was no longer grand enough. Weber calls the two businesses "Tulsa institutions that meant more to locals than the view of the Collins Hall fountain ever will."

The clich├ęd complaint that spurred the Chapman Commons "front door" project was that traveling along 11th Street, those unfamiliar with the campus wouldn't be able to recognize that they were adjacent to a university.

Since 11th also happens to be midtown's leg of Route 66, TU was squandering a golden opportunity to latch onto the mythos of the Mother Road. Ironically, now gazing upon Chapman Commons one wouldn't immediately recognize that they were adjacent to Route 66.

I'd encourage Mr. Weber to dig deeper into the history of TU's relationship with the city and its immediate neighbors. Until ORU opened its doors in 1965, TU was the only institution of higher learning in the city. Tulsa didn't have any sort of state-funded higher ed until Tulsa Junior College (TJC) in 1969.

Before then, TU was Tulsa's only college. It was the place where Tulsans went to college because they could live with their folks and save money while they earned a degree. TU's stadium was built for and at one time owned by the public school system, for use by the high school athletic program as well as the Golden Hurricane. The TU baseball team played at Oiler Park; the basketball team played at the county's Fairgrounds Pavilion and then at the city's Assembly Center. The law school was downtown across the street from Trinity Episcopal Church. The engineering school was up on N. Lewis.

50 years ago, the main campus was contained between 5th and 7th, Delaware and Gary, surrounded by neighborhoods on all sides. Businesses and churches scattered around the neighborhoods catered to students and locals alike. At some point, in the late '50s or early '60s, the single family neighborhoods around campus were rezoned to allow apartments. One house at a time was cleared to be replaced with a single-story strip of four or five small apartments.

As the neighborhood lost its integrity, it made it easy for officials to label it blighted, in need of urban renewal. The city could then use its power of eminent domain to take land that TU wanted for expansion and sell it to the college for redevelopment.

TU might have continued on its original course, scattering facilities around central Tulsa, integrating its students in the life of the city. That's been a successful model for the Savannah College of Art and Design, which has classrooms and student housing all over the city's historic district, enlivening the city with students and renovating historic buildings in the process.

Instead TU's leaders wanted a typical integrated, isolated campus, and they had governmental muscle at their disposal to make sure they got the land they wanted.

TU has many great academic programs, but it is no longer the sole option for higher ed for Tulsans, not by a long shot. It's certainly not the most affordable. If there were ever justification for the city to assist a private college with its expansion needs, that justification is no longer valid.

(Hat tip to Route 66 News.)

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3 Comments

Yogi Author Profile Page said:

Michael, You always provide great context. Thanks.

Jan Thomas said:

My best friend and I roomed together at TU back in 1967. We lived in the old 66 motel that TU had bought and used for a girls dormitory. It was hysterical! Occassionally a truck driver would stop off and try to check in for a room. Some of our friends got lucky and got to live in suites where they had an actual little living room. The Baptist Student Union had the most wonderful breakfasts too! I somehow don't think that all of these apartments have near the character or background that the old motel did. Ha!

mark said:

What is so wrong about wanting to be regarded as one of the top 50 universities in the country? What is obstinate about TU's desire? Why would the the alternative be better? Isn't it good for the Tulsa if it hosts one of the best universities in the country? Am I missing something? Construction comes hand in hand with a growing university.

As for the Metro Diner--yes, it looked neat from the street, but it was a dirty, messy dive inside.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on January 26, 2009 11:56 PM.

PLANiTULSA workshops canceled was the previous entry in this blog.

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