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Space, The Final Frontier

September 5, 2013

By: Mary Anne Fitzpatrick

These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise.   Its five- year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.

Space is also the final frontier for an arts and sciences college in a great research university located in an urban environment. New faculty, new students, and new technologies for learning and research need to be fitted into old, charming, historically important spaces in the center of campus.  I am delighted to announce that the College of Arts and Sciences has acquired Petigru College as its new home.  

Our new home is named for James L. Petigru (1789-1863, Class of 1809).  Perhaps most frequently remembered for his statement that “South Carolina is too small for a republic, and too large for an insane asylum,” he was a noted South Carolina attorney and Charleston intellectual. Petigru dared to challenge the Confederacy but was respected by all sides for his sense of honor and his courageous independence.  These personal attributes: honor, courage, humor, and integrity are still in demand today and are compass points for a liberal education.  I am deeply humbled and honored to work in an environment that reminds me on a daily basis of these important qualities. It is this rich history that grounds us, even as we boldly explore our own new worlds.   

The realities and constraints of working in an urban environment make the opening of a newly renovated space in the heart of the campus especially noteworthy.  Universities cannot build or remodel spaces overnight, even if we have the resources. The university has little “swing space” on campus to house academic departments as their offices, classrooms and labs are updated.  Moreover, we cannot rent office space and move students and faculty off campus.

Located on the edge of Gibbs Green, the front entrance of Petigru College faces the Women’s Quad directly across Greene Street.  The first building to be constructed on campus after World War II,   Petigru has housed the Law School and more recently has been the home of records, registration and financial services.

The new home of Arts and Sciences is over 30,000 gross square feet with 75% dedicated to classroom and study facilities.  Maintaining the external features of the neo-classical style common in the late 1940s and 1950s, the inside of the building has been extensively renovated. The interior has been executed in a “transitional” style harmonizing an updated and more contemporary interior with a more traditional exterior.  Features such as the dispersion of natural light, the cherry and maple wood paneling and the traditional pendant lighting reflect this style.  Modern classrooms and lecture halls with their large windows framed by beautiful trees promise to become the favorite teaching and learning spaces in the central campus.  Derek Gruner, the university architect and his colleagues, ably assisted by A&S Dean Dr. Sonya Brown, John Moring and our team have done an impressive job to restore this historic space while providing modern facilities for teaching and administration.  

Beyond providing new space, the move to this building has a positive domino effect for many arts and sciences facility improvement programs.  Using the vacated office space in Gambrell Hall has allowed the university to undertake a major six-month renovation project on the fourth floor of that building. When this is completed, the Department of Anthropology will move to Gambrell Hall, thus allowing major renovations at Hamilton College.

Renovating these campus buildings may sometimes feel like never-ending projects that encroach on the final frontier. But we are the flagship university of the first state to try to become a republic and in a city where an insane asylum remains a historic marker.  More importantly, however, we are approaching academic frontiers in refurbished buildings such as Petigru that extend beyond the question of space.  Regardless of swing space, the intellectual heart of the University of South Carolina remains a College of Arts and Sciences that is just the right size for a republic and occasionally not too big for an insane asylum.  

 Read Previous Posts By Dean Fitzpatrick.