Granite State of Mind, #52: Thompson Hall, University of New Hampshire, Durham
Today we inaugurate a new president at the University of Puget Sound, the culmination of a project I've worked on for the last six months. As the event arrives, I'm forcibly reminded of another presidential inauguration at another university, more than twenty years ago. I was fortuntae enough at the time to be serving as student body president at UNH when we inaugurated Joan Leitzel, one of the best chief executives any university has ever had, and one of the great mentors in my life. I could tell countless stories of our time together, dealing with sports cuts or unfriendly legislators or thorny campus issues, and I could go on and on about her integrity and leadership, but these posts are about places, not people. And it's hard not to think about President Leitzel without thinking about T-Hall.
It's an old building, the first one built on the campus in Durham and named after Benjamin Thompson, the farmer who deeded the land where the school resides. My first visits there came as the structure was turning 100, in 1993. I can remember being a freshman, and getting taken to task by President Dale Nitzschke when I rolled my eyes as he was trying to explain a nuanced budget issue. Stupid freshman. I can remember being a sophomore, chairing the students for the university council, when interim president Tom Fairchild (one of the kindest, most authentic people I've ever known) invited me up into his office to eat candy and talk about lobbying the legislature for more money. I can remember being a junior, and working with interim president and former governor Walter Peterson on many of the same issues, all the while receiving an ongoing political tutorial from the old pro. And then my senior year, when we inaugurated President Leitzel. Four presidents in four years. By way of contrast, last night here at Puget Sound we had a dinner that included the new president and his three immediate predecessors - a lineage totalling 43 years.
I loved the President's office on the top floor, where Muriel Knecht kept us all on task and where Gregg Sanborn made the trains run on time. The finance offices where Anthony Zizos and Candace Corvey and Bruce Spenser lit their cigars with student tuition checks. The first floor, where Dan DiBiasio and Leila V Moore and Anne Lawing wrestled with a generation of student leaders impatient with the glacial pace of institutional change. And the Trustees Board Room, that wonderful sun-dappled meeting space dripping with the smiling faces of two dozen dead presidents, like the headmaster's office at Hogwarts without the ghoulish chatter. Many and more hours spent in all of those places, trying deperately to advance the interests of students, to contribute to the life of the school, to make a difference, to matter.
It's impossible too to think of T-Hall without recalling the basement. That's where Ted Kirkpatrick and I started Justiceworks with a file folder and a phone line, determined to bring applied justice research to bear on the problems of New Hampshire. That's where Andy Smith and I kicked off our ongoing series of political and sports debates, and where I learned about brilliance from Dennis Meadows. Going back all the way to the beginning, in 1993, the basement at T-Hall used to be Information Services. That's where I got my first e-mail account, when I was 18 years old.
Dorms and apartments, the MUB, and other places were massive parts of my UNH experience. But T-Hall will always remain the highest point on campus.