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Keeping Beauty

August 5, 1997


The most recent of five campus plans for the University of Kansas was written in the mid-1990s and released in 1997. It was prompted by many things, but primarily by a 1992 review of the academic program, including its space needs, and by the fact that a plan had not been done since 1972.

The planning process has changed completely since KU’s first professional campus plan was produced in 1904. Then, KU Chancellor Frank Strong simply wrote to a favored landscape architect – Kansas City’s George Kessler – and offered him a commission. The result was basically a set of drawings, which were the Chancellor’s to follow or ignore as he chose. And much of this planning process was kept secret so as not to complicate potential land purchases.

Now planning has become a drawn-out campaign, involving in-house professionals, outside contractors, and a great deal of public involvement. The present 120-page report was the product of five years and fifty named contributors, ending with Chancellor Robert Hemenway’s preface dated August 5, 1997.

Oddly, there is no one image summing up the University’s plans for itself. Instead, what we loosely call the campus plan is really a framework for individual project-by-project plans. For example, there was discussion of constructing a new parking garage (since completed) next to the Kansas Union. There are sections about adding a building for the Dole Institute, another library, and more support structures to the West Campus. There was also a clear intent to raze several annexes leftover from the Second World War to free up space in the core campus.

More specific proposals came in regard to a perennial debate for this hilltop campus, transportation. The plan recommended expanding the on-campus traffic restrictions during the academic day; Sunnyside Avenue and Memorial Drive would become closed behind traffic-control booths as Jayhawk Boulevard was already, and that roadway would be restricted further to bikes and one-way buses. Other considerations included everything from entry points to escalators, buses to bikes, and of course parking complaints.

But the 1997 report had many more principles and observations than specific prescriptions. These values were to guide and evaluate all specific project plans in the future. They reflected, for example, how the new digital technologies of the 1990s might change the campus landscape. They reflected some awareness of environmental issues, such as the preservation of open and green space in the western edge of the campus.

Unlike past plans, they assumed the University population would continue to grow indefinitely, and at a rate not necessarily controlled by the University itself. Great attention was given to security. But more than anything else the emphasis of this plan, as stated right on its cover, was on renewal. The plan gives the impression of a maturing campus, with a fixed amount of open land for building, and certain concerns for its aging edifices already in place.

KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway got the final word in the 1997 plan, in his preface, which boiled it all down. He ticked off many current and future building projects, which amounted to about a quarter of a billion dollars. Then he stated two principles, in bold caps, to which he would adhere. It is these which are most widely quoted, and which might best sum up this plan.

1. PRESERVE THE BEAUTY OF MT. OREAD
2. CREATE AN ENVIRONMENT WHICH SHOWS
RESPECT FOR LEARNING

Robb Campbell

Department of History
University of Kansas

Source Notes

[Source Notes: The Campus Plan, the University of Kansas: a Framework for Campus Renewal and Physical Development (Lawrence, Kansas: U. of Kansas, 1997). UDK 18 September 1995, 20 September 1995, 22 September 1995, 5 October 1995, 11 September 1997, 24 September 1997.]