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An unattractive option

Observer Viewpoint | Thursday, March 24, 2005

The University has made its statement. The regilding process of the golden dome will continue through graduation ceremonies in May.To the chagrin of many graduating seniors, there will be no scenic Commencement weekend family photos in front of the landmark administration building, no gleaming gold in the background – none, at least, without metal scaffolding surrounding it. It is unfortunate that those responsible for instituting the regilding process did not provide students with sufficient notice of the project. The University’s intentions were revealed quietly the Friday before spring break, when few students remained on campus and President Bush’s visit captured the attention of those who did.Workers began erecting scaffolds the following Monday, when even fewer students were around to see it. All subsequent student reaction, therefore, has been that of surprise – rightfully so – and of resentment. The University had a responsibility to make the community aware. When it gave notice at an ill-timed moment, Notre Dame underestimated the negative student perception of its decision, and did not adequately anticipate the reaction that ensued.Though that reaction was somewhat slow in coming, it reached full force this week as the implications of the regilding began to sink in. Taking action on behalf of his classmates, senior class president Darrell Scott did a thorough job gathering information on the University’s last regilding process in 1988. Scott found evidence that University officials pushed back the process until after graduation that year.But while Scott and his contemporaries showed impressive initiative pursuing a moratorium on the regilding process, they did not have the resources to fully understand the University’s reasons for erecting scaffolds and for beginning at this specific time of year.This year’s project is decidedly different from the work done on the building 17 years ago. This spring and summer, workers are not only regilding the dome. They are also taking on necessary additional projects, such as making structural repairs and sealing cracks in the statue of Our Lady.Whether the University intentionally or unintentionally withheld notice and specifics of the regilding, the work itself allows little breathing room. The nature of the process does, in fact, demand a six-month time frame, which South Bend weather narrows to only this time of year.It is not wrong for students to charge the University with a certain degree of oversight. Indeed, the prestige of Notre Dame and its demographic of students mean many parents do not have frequent access to the campus, particularly students attending Notre Dame from foreign countries.Parents making their sole trip to campus should not be deprived of seeing the dome and capturing its memory. And all parents’ graduating sons and daughters are justified in their disappointment at being prevented from preserving the perfect memory on film.But a picture isn’t everything.Notre Dame is a top national university that will provide all of the same seniors who have voiced opposition to this project with a solid degree, friends for life and memories that run deeper than photographs and graduation day.So for now, seniors must recognize the regilding as a necessary evil, even though that option – like the golden dome surrounded by scaffolding – does not seem too attractive.