Gartley forgotten


POSTED: Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The University of Hawaii at Manoa has seen better days. As most UH-Manoa students and faculty are probably aware, Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw recently announced that historic Gartley Hall is to be closed because of major structural damage. This speaks volumes. Whose job has it been to provide this school with the resources it needs to subsist? It's a little unclear to me who this may be — whether the state Legislature, the Office of the Governor, or someone else entirely. University officials sometimes boast that UH-Manoa is the state's flagship public university. That may be true, but the poor condition of the school's campus grounds and facilities is a symptom of a deeper problem with the university itself. Gartley Hall is now a symbol of much that is wrong with UH-Manoa.

The third oldest permanent structure on campus, Gartley Hall was built in 1922, at a relatively high public cost. That was in an era when society believed that higher education was an institution worthy of heavy investment. Designed by architect J. H. Craig, in what was described as “;a somewhat Grecian style,”; the structure itself was a testament to the belief that schools should be places that inspire awe — they should be grand, beautiful and dignified. A succession of poor decisions and course changes in the years that followed has made a hash of this vision. Today, the campus is a mess. Most buildings clash with one another with nauseating discord. Many buildings built between the 1970s and 1990s are quasi-Brutalist in style, and look grotesque and out of place. Others simply crumble from neglect.

The picture as a whole is not encouraging. The Old Quad, however, is one of the only parts of campus that went according to plan. This, too, will be ruined if Gartley Hall isn't saved.

What exactly happened here? How can it be that a university situated in one of the most idyllic settings in the country looks as shabby as it does? There are probably many reasons for this, and I can't pretend to understand them all. But from conversations with a number of longtime university faculty members, one cause stands out from the rest: fiscal malnourishment. This view is echoed with surprising regularity from most university faculty with whom I've spoken.

The recession's toll on state coffers has only worsened this situation. As events unfold, it looks increasingly likely that budget cuts to the university this year will mean painful cutbacks in almost all departments. Campus improvements, however, have been spared the worst of the cuts. Understandably, there are those who resent this, especially when jobs and livelihoods are at stake. The university's administration is, it would seem, in a very awkward position. They are obliged to make do with inadequate funding (due to state cutbacks), yet have unhappily become the lightning rod for criticism over budget cuts across campus.

The news of Gartley's problems has therefore come at the worst possible moment. Once the structural assessment on Gartley Hall has been completed, the university's administration will be faced with a decision. To many, it will appear as though administration must choose between “;an old building”; and people's jobs. For this reason, they may find themselves under tremendous pressure to either delay restoration of Gartley Hall indefinitely, or have the structure demolished.

Two other alternatives may be in the cards, however. With the right motivation, they might choose to restore the structure in the same way as Hawaii Hall, and in doing so return the building to its original character. Or, they might cheaply renovate the building as was done with Crawford Hall and George Hall (two other historic buildings of the Old Quad), which today may be functional, but whose interiors are as sterile and featureless as a hospital's.

There is a narrow window of opportunity to make a decision about Gartley Hall. If this opportunity is missed, the building's deterioration could advance beyond the point at which Gartley might safely be restored. The Old Quad, one of the most iconic areas of campus, will never look the same if Gartley Hall is demolished.

UH Manoa may be in difficult fiscal straits, but if it shrinks from making the right decision about Gartley Hall, we will forever lose an important part of Hawaii history.



Arlen McCluskey is a graduate student in the UH-Manoa's School of Communications.