In the early 19th century, not long into a college presidency that would stretch to 62 years, Eliphalet Nott wanted to expand Union's campus, then located in the Stockade, to help fulfill his vision of a family-like community where faculty and students lived together.
So he turned to a visiting French architect, Joseph-Jacques Ramée, to create a community of scholars "separated from the great world."
The result was a sweeping design that, at the time, was the most ambitious and innovative plan for an American college or university, one that helped shape the future of other campuses.
As the College readies to celebrate the upcoming 200th anniversary of Ramée's plan, President Stephen C. Ainlay focused on Ramee's vision and its continuing impact on the campus during his remarks to kick off Union's 218th academic year.
Recalling the first buildings on the new Union campus, North and South College (now four Minerva Houses), Ainlay said the two buildings alone "would have been worthy of architectural note, with faculty houses on both ends of the two structures and student rooms in between; a design that sought to maximize the close relationship between faculty and students that still characterizes our educational approach today."
But, Ainlay told the hundreds gathered in Memorial Chapel for the opening convocation, Ramée envisioned much more for the Union campus.
"The Ramée design for Union was a complex work and incorporated buildings, large open green spaces, and gardens," that drew national attention, he said.
"Ramée, working in concert with Eliphalet Nott, saw an opportunity to do something that had never been done before and in the process transformed the landscape of American higher education."
Ainlay also touched on other architects who have helped shape Union's campus while preserving Ramee's architectural integrity, from Edward Tuckerman Potter (who designed the Nott Memorial) to Charles Kirby and a team from Einhorn, Yaffe and Prescott (EYP), who designed the recently opened Peter Irving Wold Center.
Ainlay concluded by asking the community to celebrate and steward Union's historic campus.
"I would urge you all to walk our historic campus and see it anew," he said. "Appreciate the way in which this campus embraces you. I recently walked the campus with two long-time friends who have seen many campuses over the course of their academic careers. They remarked, 'This is what a college campus should look like.' That observation is as true today as it was 200 years ago."
To read the text of Ainlay’s speech, click here.
Also at convocation, Ainlay welcomed the Class of 2016, The 592 first-year students were selected from among a record 5,565 applicants, marking one of the most competitive years in the College’s admissions history
Therese A. McCarty, the Stephen J. and Diane K. Ciesinski Dean of Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs, presented the Stillman Prize for Excellence in Teaching to Eshragh (Eshi) Motahar, associate professor of economics. The prize was created by David I. Stillman ’72, Abbott Stillman ’69 and Allan Stillman in honor of Abraham Stillman, father and grandfather. It is given annually to a faculty member to encourage outstanding teaching.
McCarty also recognized the students who made the Dean’s List last year. Their names are on a plaque that will be displayed in Reamer Campus Center.
Warren Thompson '15 received the Hollander Prize in Music, established by Lawrence J. Hollander, dean of engineering emeritus. He performed on flute Mozart's Andante C Major, K. 315, accompanied on piano by Palmyra Catravas, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering.
The convocation opened with remarks from William A. Finlay, College marshal and professor of theater and dance; Mark Walsh ’76, chairman of the Board of Trustees; Ron Bucinell, associate professor of mechanical engineering and the new chair of the Faculty Executive Committee; and Justin Reilly '13, Student Forum president.
Accompanied on organ by Professor of Music Dianne McMullen, the Class of 2016 led Ode to Ole Union to close the ceremony. An all-campus barbecue followed on Hull Plaza.