God, currency, Notre Dame: The desecration of Waddick’s
Letter to the Editor | Thursday, November 1, 2018
In his statement justifying the six semester housing policy, Father Jenkins extolled such high-minded notions as “tradition,” “community” and “student feedback” before announcing that his way to deal with students’ growing preference for moving off campus was simply to take that option away from them. To the uninitiated, it would seem that Notre Dame was so committed to preserving cherished institutions that it was willing to trap students in the dorm system to prevent even the slightest bit of cultural decay. The uninitiated would be surprised, then, to hear Margaret Meserve, the associate dean for the humanities and faculty affairs and associate professor of history who spearheaded the renovation, explain the total erasure of Waddick’s as follows:
“We thought opening up the space to the South Quad and bringing in more natural lighting, as well as more places for people to charge their devices and different kinds of seating … would be a pretty good tradeoff for losing a space that people loved and felt very attached to.”
Ah, yes. So you’re not allowed to move out of buildings you don’t love, and the places you do love will be destroyed in favor of … outlets.
When I wrote “The Iced Coffee Manifesto” last year, I was more raging against the dying of the light than seriously trying to effect change. I understood that one Observer viewpoint, or even a “Save Waddick’s” petition with almost 500 hundred signatures from both students and faculty which Campus Dining squashed at the height of its momentum, probably was not enough to throw a wrench in the machinations of a bullish Notre Dame bureaucracy. My fellow Waddick’s faithful and I were forced to simply sit back and trust that the administration had students’ best interests at heart. After all, Luis Alberganti, director of retail dining, assured us that “there [were] no plans to permanently close Waddick’s” and that it was merely “being considered for renovation.”
These “renovations” actually amounted to an outright desecration of the Waddick’s we once knew. What was once aptly described as “the ultimate Arts and Letters retreat” was left absolutely gutted and utterly devoid of any of its former character. It is laughable how unnecessary and ineffective the changes were in light of the fact that they were largely influenced by faculty and staff feedback stating that the lines were too long and that it was too hard to get a seat. The typical rush between classes still sees the same lines into what used to be the hall, and the cluttered kitchen has only slowed service down if anything. There is only marginally more functional workspace; a “run-down table” is a far better place to work than a modern concept rocking chair with what might as well double as a Spirit Airlines dinner tray spinning annoyingly about the arm. The only way the new space facilitates community is by forcing strangers to get uncomfortably close to each other on one of the squishy leather couches, because the logical solution to a dearth of workspace is more lounge furniture. Perhaps most bizarrely, Meserve described the cozy, oaky, carpeted hole-in-the-wall we once loved as overly “fluorescent,” and yet she replaced it with a completely gray, open-concept “commons” with the sanitized vibe of an orthopedist’s waiting room.
The renovations didn’t get literally everything wrong — more and upholstered booths was a nice touch. But that’s about it. The claim that Campus Dining worked with “several” PLS students is at best reflective of a desire to have merely checked the box of having asked students for their input in light of how little any of their suggestions were taken into account. Seriously — try to find a single PLS student who prefers the new space. The administration could not have been more transparent about how little they cared about student input. Alberganti said, “[Students] can rest assured that every decision that we did was for the betterment of the space,” because at Notre Dame, it’s the spaces, not what happens in them, that matter. As long as prospective students can gawk at shiny accommodations on tours and benefactors can enshrine their names forever (except for, say, the Rolfs family — no one is safe!), the administration will be content.
That’s ultimately what the tragedy boils down to: Robert Waddick was downgraded from namesake to guy-on-poster-stashed-in-corner because instead of having hundreds of thousands of dollars to fill Notre Dame’s coffers, he poured decades’ worth of time and energy into his students. The humanities already face a crisis of functionality; I’m willing to bet an iced coffee that every single Arts and Letters student has heard some sort of joke about useless majors and unemployment. As Assistant Dean, Robert Waddick was a shining example of the worth of humbly furthering knowledge not for fortune, but merely for learning’s own sake. And with barely a modicum of input from the community he loved, Notre Dame has washed his legacy of service away in a poorly executed and vehemently opposed cash grab.
We loved Waddick’s because it was ours. Charron Family Cafe is unquestionably the administration’s. And in light of such impositions as the new housing policy, tuition hikes, the closure of Rolf’s and the desecration of Waddick’s, I wonder how much more of the student experience Our Lady’s University wants to auction off before it remembers that an endowment is supposed to serve more than U.S. News rankings.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.