Clemson Forum on Shaping the Environment
"Clemson and a Sense of Place"
President James F. Barker
April 18, 2001

My part of this forum is to present some abstract ideas and to try to make them relevant to you on this campus.

One year ago I tried to put together thoughts about the “Idea of Clemson” and present them during the Inauguration in the amphitheater.

I attempted to say that Clemson is many things, the man, the family, the place, the community, the athletic team, the University…but Clemson is first and foremost an idea.

I found 9 characteristics of the idea of Clemson and 2 or 3 are directly applicable to this forum today.

The idea of Clemson is distinctive: There is no idea like it and no University like us.  We must celebrate how we are distinctive in equal measure to how we are similar to others in national comparisons.  In our distinctive qualities lies our best future.  President Walter Merrit Riggs realized this in 1910 when he said:
“From its very inception, Clemson College has been unique.  It is built on a covenant with the people; and its present welfare and its future growth depend upon the observance of that covenant.” From our founding idea to be both “a high seminary of learning” which speaks of breadth as well as “Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina” which speaks of depth; from our mission, to our Board of Trustees and governance; from our commitment to educate the whole person, to our international connections established by our Founder, to the names in the sidewalks and the stones on Cemetery Hill, to our “sense of place” and our “sense of community” -  in all these ways and many more…Clemson is different from other Universities.

Each one of these distinctive qualities are important, but for today’s discussion, let’s look at Clemson’s “sense of place” and “sense of community.”

Let me present an abstract idea to you to describe what “sense of place” means.  The Greeks believed that each piece of the earth was occupied by a spirit and that this condition could be best described as “Genius Loci” = Spirit of Place.  The Greeks believed that before you built anything on the land it was your responsibility to understand this “spirit of place” and build in harmony with this spirit/sense of place.

Why do so many people describe this campus as “beautiful” or they search for words to describe it?

It’s because for over 6 generations this land, these contours, views of the mountains, vistas to the lake, trees, plants, water and sky speak to us – it always has.  These six generations have listened.  They have simply listened to the sense of place created by these natural forces and they have tried hard to build in harmony with this sense of place they found here.

In 1897, over 100 year ago, President Hartzog in his annual report to the Board of Trustees said…
“With the splendid endowment of nature for a base, art in 5 years could make the Clemson grounds the most beautiful place in South Carolina”
The sense of this place was speaking to him and he was listening, convinced this could be the most beautiful place in South Carolina.

Six generations have listened. What will we do with this remarkable challenge?  What will be said of how well we listened to the sense of this place?  Will we contribute to this covenant?  What will our contribution be?

What about the “sense of community” we find on this campus and in this community?

Have you ever realized what a remarkable place Bowman Field is?  It is one of the most beautiful rooms I have ever been in.  It is the physical manifestation of the sense of community at Clemson.

There is a view I get when the University plane brings me home and we fly over College Avenue above the Fort Hill Presbyterian Church downtown, of a tight main street that explodes open into Bowman Field crowned by Tillman’s tower.  It is the collective living room of the town of Clemson and the Clemson campus.  It is the union of these two communities into one.  It symbolizes a coming together or a sense of community that is truly distinctive.

A group of freshman students were having dessert at the President’s House recently.  They were having a discussion among themselves about their first semester on the Clemson campus.  I was listening in the background.  They began to describe their favorite places on the campus that was their new home.  It was inspiring to hear the passion they felt about these places; some small little courtyards, some large like Bowman Field but each had meaning to them.

Each place symbolizes a sense of community to these new comers to campus.

This did not just happen.  Each generation, each class, each individual has contributed to this sense of community.

In 1925, 76 years ago, President Sikes saw this sense of community when he said, “In Clemson you all find a home.  You may have your own houses, your happy firesides, but here you have a common home.”

“A common home” is a wonderful phrase to describe the sense of community we enjoy on this campus.

We have a significant opportunity before us.  The process of updating, crafting, and expanding our campus master plan provides us this opportunity.

You see, in many ways, this campus master plan is the documentation of our collective sense of place and collective sense of community.  This plan allows us to say what we value, what we will contribute, what character we want to change and character we want to preserve. 

In other words, it is a record of our response to the covenant others have established in this place.

It is sometimes tempting to say we don’t want to change a thing…well, that is impossible.  We have real needs for this campus, we need additional buildings, we need to change the use of some of our buildings, the world demands fresh ideas from this place, we are about change.  We will not become a top 20 public university and we will not meet our goals for the future if we are not about change.

As much as we would like, Clemson is not sanctuary from change.

So what are we to do?  We need to learn the lessons of the past (good and bad) and we work to move forward; always aware of this covenant, this sense of place and this sense of community.

One of the decisions we need to make is written to include a commitment to having a “sustainable campus.”

This could be a part of our generation’s contribution to the covenant. It also has the potential to be a wonderful teaching/learning context for our faculty and students.

Others will speak more about this idea of Clemson as a sustainable University later.  I believe this idea has real value, it fits Clemson and it will afford us rich teaching/learning opportunities.

Let me close by saying that we will contribute to the sense of place and sense of community on our campus.  It is unavoidable.  It is up to us as to the quality of this contribution.  I urge all of us to be sensitive to this contribution and energized by its potential.

Thank you.

SUI Home / Top of Page

Prepared by:  Kim Buchanan
Document URL:

This page copyright  © 2006, The Board of Trustees of the University of South Carolina.