The Pilgrim’s Regress: the seminary should stay put

By Max Saltman
Executive Staff

I’d had a rough day, so I decided to get a haircut. Not having a car, the only barber I knew of within walking distance was The Hair Depot, way down at the end of University Ave. When I got there, and the woman asked me what I wanted, I told her to buzz off my hair with a number 3 guard. It was then, as my hair fell to the floor and the result of buzzing my rather globular head became apparent, that I remembered the advice my mother gave me: “If you’re feeling moody, please, for the love of God, leave your hair alone.”

In my mind, this is the best analogy to describe some of the physical changes the University wants to make on campus, like moving the School of Theology to Guerry and St Luke’s from its home out by Quintard or removing the fire department from Wiggins. Like a morose teenager going through a phase, we’re frantically changing our look to match our mood, and in the process, we’re making changes that we’ll probably end up regretting later.

The current proposal as outlined in the email the Vice-Chancellor sent to the University community in February states that the goal is to move the Beecken Center into the first floor of St. Luke’s, with the upper floors remaining as dormitory space. Even if one ignores the cringe-inducing situation of undergrad pre-games and education for ministry occuring in the same building, this plan ends up getting rid of valuable dorm space, and in the process displacing undergraduate students.

While it is true that this plan isn’t final, and even if it was would not be implemented for some time, there is no plan I know of to provide students with more housing to make up for housing lost in the School of Theology’s move. In fact, the opposite is true, what with the Fire Department being evicted from Wiggins and now the first floor of St. Luke’s under possible re-configuration.

Furthermore, the arguments in favor of the move are too weak to make up for displacing undergraduate students, the music department, and the politics department. One line of reasoning states that the School of Theology is often seen as a separate entity from the University at large, and that moving the seminary back to central campus would make the University more “whole.” The problem with this argument is that it ignores differences between the College and Seminary which have nothing to do with the buildings they inhabit.

For example, college students and seminarians often exist in different social circles not because they attend class far away from each other, but because most undergrads just aren’t inclined to seek out seminarians to hang out with. I can’t speak for divinity students, but I’d imagine that the sentiment is similar.

Why? It isn’t because undergrads don’t like divinity students or vice-versa, but only because we often (but not always) inhabit different spheres: the secular and the religious, the undergraduate and the graduate, the younger and the older. Typically, undergraduates range in age from 17 to 22. According to Associate Professor Rob McSwain, the School of Theology’s students have a much wider range, about 22 to 72.

While we’re both technically part of one student body, it is undeniable that social interactions between older adults pursuing doctorates and master’s degrees in divinity and college students two or three years out of high school are unlikely. More importantly, that aspect of human social interaction has nothing to do with Sewanee. It’s just the way the cookie crumbles.

Another argument, that the School of Theology is simply too far away from central campus, ignores the the fact that there are not one but three undergraduate dorms that are farther from All Saints Chapel than Hamilton Hall, which is half a mile away. According to Google Maps, Phillips Hall is 0.6 miles away, Gorgas Hall is 0.7 miles away, and Quintard is 0.6 miles away. There are even other academic buildings just as far-flung as Hamilton. Nabit is 0.6 miles away, and the Tennessee Williams Center is about the same distance from the Quad as Hamilton Hall.

None of these differences are large, about a quarter mile or less, but this only means that many buildings at Sewanee are equidistant. It also means that the distance of the School of Theology from central campus is greatly exaggerated.

This is what it means to be a university: we live under one system, technically, but we inhabit different areas of that system. Just because the solar system is comprised of different planets, dwarf planets, and a star doesn’t mean that it’s any less whole. Likewise, just because the School of Theology is somewhat separate from the College doesn’t mean that our University is somehow in dire need of physical change.

While it may be a slightly uncomfortable combination, a more or less secular College combined with a School of Theology, I doubt it’s as bad as the resulting discomfort from evicting two academic departments and retrofitting a college dorm for ministry education. Put the electric clippers away, Sewanee. This is one buzzcut we can do without.