“of sturdier stuff than metaphor”

June 13, 2013 § Leave a comment

The campus was largely empty this time of year. The new term’s prospective students had by now already toured and declared their destinations. Most summer intensive courses, ambitiously designed to cram a semester into ten days, but whose professors ran out of lecture material in six, were complete. On a summer day one might encounter the odd exchange student who had arrived too early, the administrative staff member who arrived each day all year, or perhaps a couple of librarians one could rarely find when needed. The seminary grounds were not large, only about fifty acres, and whatever activity remained there was confined to the two largest of its five buildings.

The main hub of the undergraduate school, Mingus Hall was by far the largest and liveliest. The subject of a new fundraising campaign every four or so years, Mingus Hall had steadily become an architectural landmark of Cincinnati. From its original 1970s utilitarian, two-floor brick design, with just enough space to accommodate a gymnasium, twenty or so classrooms, and offices for faculty and administration, it was by the time R. finished his graduate studies, seven levels of steel whose shadow over the campus was of sturdier stuff than metaphor, with a full-service cafeteria whose culinary reputation was such that students had to call ahead for reservations.

The site of the graduate school and library, the Bieder Building was the second-oldest on campus, and seemed to serve spatially as a perpendicular contrast to the excesses of Mingus Hall. Built in the 1950s, its exterior did not as easily permit embellishment and had over the years only been lightly touched by repairs. As these things go, though, the interior — some would, the very soul — of the Bieder Building had changed significantly. Cincinnati Seminary was not innocent of the tumult of the late-1960s, and suffered its most significant scandal around this time when a graduate student submitted a Master’s thesis arguing that Werner Bieder, the building’s principal donor and namesake, gave sanctuary to a S.S. officer who in 1945 fled to America using the stolen identity of an American G.I. he very likely had personally executed. Outrage and protest followed, beginning with the initial demand that the building’s name be changed to the Bäumer Building — in recognition that Cincinnati’s German population would express appreciation for the reference to All Quiet on the Western Front by canceling a planned counter-protest — and culminating in a failed petition that called for the burning of all books and periodicals Bieder had given the library in his will. Failed by its escalating demands, the protesters were dealt another blow when the graduate student who had written the thesis, when faced with the findings of a private investigator contracted by the Bieder estate, admitted he could not in good Christian conscience say that none of his work was done under the influence of LSD. Not wishing to alienate the Bieder estate right as they were starting to offer undergraduate studies and in need of a new building on campus, the trustees decided the most responsible thing to do in the face of the scandal, the protests, and the investigation was to hire an interior decorator to modernize the inside.

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