History matters. Not because we should be stuck in the past, but because nothing clarifies our present situation like an understanding of how we got here.

Our campus is old enough to have its own history, and we should learn from it. For more than 50 years we have declined to build in the East Meadow and in the Central Meadow. Why? Did we just not get around to it?

On the contrary, it was a bold decision by a group of America’s best architects who set the design policy for the campus at the outset. They called for building in the central part of the campus, along the tree line and among the trees, rather than out in these open meadows.

They knew that a great university was more than a collection of classrooms and laboratories – it must also inspire, must motivate, must attract the best and bring out the best in students, faculty, and staff, and must garner the support of alumnae and the larger community. And they knew that at UCSC the campus itself would be a big part of achieving all that.

We have had more than 50 years to learn the value of that vision, to learn the power of that first vista up across those meadows as one enters the campus, to understand the inspiration of that grand view from many places on campus out across those meadows to the town below and the Monterey Bay beyond.

If we were now to hastily put 40 prefab buildings in that meadow (the manufacturer refers to them as “productized housing”)-- creating a horrible new first impression for those entering the campus and dropping clutter in the midst of those heretofore uplifting vistas -- we would be saying that we no longer remember what makes this place special, what we have been and who we are, and who we set out to be. We will have lost our way.

To propose building in the meadow is a mistake, but a proposal is still a reversible mistake. However once those bulldozers tear into the East Meadow, now planned for this August or September, it will become something far worse: an irreversible mistake. Because once the meadow is torn up, we cannot put it back.

And that great loss would be for so little – the meadow would be lost for only 5% of the proposed housing. We need to decide whether we have come so far, to give up so much, for so little.

Fortunately we have alternatives that give us 100% of the proposed housing without all this self-inflicted damage. All we need to do is make the right decision.

-- John Dizikes

Professor Emeritus and Former Provost, Cowell College