The West Union renovations are occurring in tandem with modifications to Perkins Library, which have caused the Gothic Reading Room to close. In addition to being inconvenient and unsightly, these projects have changed the atmosphere on campus.
The Bryan Center walkway closing, in particular, shrinks a communal space that has existed since the plaza's creation in 2006. Students have lost a main artery into one of the premier social spaces on campus, and the elimination of the main entrance hurts some parts of Duke’s social culture. The walkway was a place in which groups could table for causes, and it offered an area for students to sit, relax and engage with others.
We recognize that it will take two years for the West Union renovations to be complete and that any type of infrastructural improvement will inevitably cause some current students’ experiences to suffer. But we are not sure that the disruptions caused by these projects are totally fair to current students. Students do not only pay for a Duke degree, but also for a campus experience, and, for many, that experience is being diminished.
Students might be able to accept the loss of the Bryan Center plaza entrance without much fuss if there had been better communication about the likely disruptions caused by this year’s construction projects. We suspect administrators have compelling reasons for carrying out these projects in the way that they have, but find it troubling that the administration has felt little need to articulate these reasons to students. It is particularly disappointing that the administration failed to send students an email regarding the change. We find this apparent indifference to the concerns of current students disrespectful.
Frustrated by the lack of communication, we ask for clarification on a few issues. Safety is an obvious reason for closing the entrance to the plaza, but what precisely were the safety concerns that motivated the close? How were the interests of current students weighed in the decision-making process? A clearer understanding of the cost-benefit analysis conducted by the University will help students to make sense of the construction and how it affects them. Additionally, we are curious what alternatives were considered when deciding to close the entire pathway? Must the Bryan Center be entirely cut off from the residential quad or would it have been possible to create a narrow path past the construction? Answers to these questions would be helpful for understanding the logic behind the closing.
The West Union renovations will undoubtedly improve the University in the long term, and the administration has worked to minimize inconveniences. Students are frustrated, however, by the lack of communication about the construction and its impacts, and we encourage the administration to consider its responsibility to current students and the risk the University's reputation may run if it appears unwilling to consider students’ concerns.