Author: Dean DeChiaro
President Veitch announced in late January a $10 million dollar renovation of Johnson Hall, including the construction of the McKinnon Family Center for Politics and the Global Affairs. The interactive, interdisciplinary learning space is expected to house the Diplomacy and World Affairs, Politics, Economics and language departments, as well as the International Programs Office.
The center’s construction is being funded completely by donations, the largest being a $5 million gift from the family of investment banker and Board of Trustee member Ian McKinnon (‘89). In total, $7.5 million of the $10.2 million price tag has been donated. Construction is set to begin following the end of the Swan Hall project this June and could be completed as early as June 2013.
While this original building will maintain its exterior facade, its interior will undergo extensive changes, including entirely new classrooms. The McKinnon Center, meanwhile, will occupy much of the building’s southern end. It will serve as the epicenter of international studies on campus, and potentially create synergy between departments that previously may not have worked together.
The center is designed to epitomize the college’s mission to create global citizens and provide it with a physical setting.
“When you come to visit our campus today, and you tell people we’re committed to global education, then they walk through the campus, but it looks like every other school that is also committed to global education,” Gonzalez said.
“What I want to have is a place, so that when people walk through it, they’ll say ‘This college is, indeed, committed to global education.’ That is precisely why we needed to invest money in it.”
The plans for the Center include a spacious two-story high atrium, a rotated and enlarged Johnson 200 lecture hall and an interactive wall map advertised to donors as “a digital crossroads.” The wall, curved and futuristic, exhibits a digital map of the world connected to a series of e-kiosks on the floor below, which students can use to control the information displayed on the map.
“Whatever you’re interested in= or researching at that particular moment, you can visualize it on the map. Water distribution, refugee populations, countries belonging to specific international organizations, that type of thing,” Director of International Programs Robin Craggs said.
Johnson 200, which presently sits parallel to the Quad, will rotate and expand to fit an expanded capacity upwards of 300, with additional viewing space on either of the room’s second-floor verandas that will circumvent the atrium.
“Right now, we don’t really have the type of place where we can put an important speaker. We have Thorne Hall, which is huge, and then Johnson 200, which is not quite big enough. But now we’ll have an in-between space, which is important,” Director of Communications Jim Tranquada said.
Although facilitating and fostering the creation of global citizens was something Veitch discussed in his inauguration speech three years ago, gaining the approval of the Board while the endowment was suffering proved difficult. But following the contributions of McKinnon and his wife, Sonnet, the project’s plausibility increased significantly. Since then, the College has received additional gifts amounting to $2.25 million. The remaining costs can be donated in increments ranging from $2 million (the cost of the new Johnson 200) to $100,000.
Many students were excited by the designs, saying that plans to place global affairs-related departments in the same building were long overdue.
“I interned at the United Nations last semester, so I understand the importance of having different disciplines all located in the same place. This kind of center will give kids more chances to experience international relations the way they take place in the real world,” DWA/Spanish major Leah Glowacki (senior) said.
Glowacki also commented on the importance of including the language departments in the center.
“People don’t always realize how important languages are. How can you understand a culture or a problem that arises between cultures without speaking the language?” she said.
However other students expressed concerns with the designs, questioning the usefulness of the digital crossroads.
“The success of classes at Oxy hinges on the quality of the teaching, not the buildings. It looks like a bunch of toys in there,” Priya Ghose (sophomore) said.
Similarly, Nicola Schulze (junior) questioned the necessity of the center’s futuristic designs.
“Obviously improvements should be made, but I don’t know how important it is that it be so hyper-techno. We don’t need to hyper-modernize, we need good teachers,” she said.
Professors, meanwhile, seem split on the plans. While Craggs and professors in the DWA department discussed the plans with enthusiasm, some expressed reservations at the administration’s choice to pursue institutional advancement over educational improvement.
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