A Walk Around Rocky Top (The Campus, Not the Town)

UT Campus, Knoxville, May 2020

With all the conversation about schools this week, it put me in mind of a walk I took in early May around the UT campus. Many of us are UT graduates and many more are sports fans of the university, so the campus has and continues to play an important part in our lives and our community. During the month of May, of course, the campus was much more quiet than usual, with students dismissed from classes early this spring. Still, I found a few graduates floating around.

UT Campus, Knoxville, May 2020

UT Campus, Knoxville, May 2020

UT Campus, Knoxville, May 2020

As we’ve turned our attention to the looming school year and all the questions that surround it, it’s worth taking a moment to acknowledge all the graduates that didn’t graduate in a traditional fashion. No, graduation ceremony’s rarely change our lives, but they are at least a moment of recognition for hard work before the real world imposes its will on our lives.

UT Campus, Knoxville, May 2020

UT Campus, Knoxville, May 2020

UT Campus, Knoxville, May 2020

It was not only college graduations that were altered, of course. Many high school graduations were lost. Even smaller transitions, like the last days at middle or elementary school. Urban Girl finished fifth grade and missed her trip to Washington with her safety patrol friends, which she’d anticipated as her final moment with her first real set of friends.

UT Campus, Knoxville, May 2020

UT Campus, Knoxville, May 2020

UT Campus, Knoxville, May 2020

I enjoyed my walk around campus and thought about how much it has changed since I took my first class there somewhere around 1983 or 1984, or even since I got a degree from the university in 2001. (And no, before somebody cracks the joke, I did not take nearly twenty years to graduate. It’s a long story.)

UT Campus, Knoxville, May 2020

UT Campus, Knoxville, May 2020

UT Campus, Knoxville, May 2020

Remember when UT was declared one of the ugliest universities in the country? This link was from 2013. If you’ve been to many major college campuses, you might understand where the ranking came from. Compared to any number of campuses, the UT campus has left something to be desired in terms of green space, modern architecture, pedestrian friendliness, etc.

UT Campus, Knoxville, May 2020

UT Campus, Knoxville, May 2020

UT Campus, Knoxville, May 2020

It’s certainly changed quite a bit since that dubious recognition. The new student center seems to be quite an improvement. The pedestrian mall through the center of campus made it much more appealing. I really like the library and always have, even though it was compared to a child’s lego set in one article I read. I’m mixed on some of the newer buildings.

UT Campus, Knoxville, May 2020

UT Campus, Knoxville, May 2020

UT Campus, Knoxville, May 2020

Construction continues and was moving forward even as I walked through the mostly deserted campus. More living space for students is on the way. It’s hard not to wonder if perhaps we’ve over built. It was a thought before 2020, but it is a definite thought for many at this point. Some people feel students may return to college campuses in smaller numbers for years to come. Or not. Nobody really knows.

UT Campus, Knoxville, May 2020

UT Campus, Knoxville, May 2020

One tiny discovery on my walk was the Native American Interpretive Garden on the west end of campus. I had no idea it existed. It’s small, but a nice spot to stop and nose around a bit on a pretty spring day. I’d recommend you look it up.

UT Campus, Knoxville, May 2020

UT Campus, Knoxville, May 2020

I needed a quiet ending to this week. Just photos from a peaceful little walk to smooth some of the angst. Thanks for walking along with me.

Comments

  1. It’s amazing to think of how many ways this pandemic has changed just about every aspect of the life we once knew. For example, it hadn’t occurred to me that it would impact the use of buildings newly erected on campus for a world that seemed so permanent when they were built. How crazy is it that so of those buildings could go unused or partially unused for potentially years to come? In hindsight it seems like a bit of a waste, but hopefully will be a cautionary tale for future decision making.

  2. Marie Perelman says

    Thank you for these beautiful shots of the many sights around our gorgeous campus. Sad to see it so empty of the youthful vigor usually found there but good to know it awaits their return. Encouraging for us who still stick close to home!

  3. Really exceptionally well done photo essay of UTK campus. Absolutely gorgeous shots. So glad you seized this opportunity while the campus was empty to capture these images.

    The spector of agressive over building at UT was, as you note, already a concern prior to the pandemic. Just as a society we began moving work from office to home and relying and planning on more internet space the University system began a questionable expansion program all across the state.

    It seemed unwise then, now it appears down right foolish. Overlay population growth trends and the wisdom of such agressive adoption of debt is puzzling to say the least.

    Be on the lookout for political movements promoting the need for a state income tax to “rescue” universities.

    In any event you captured the UT campus on an exceptionally clear day amd the images are stunning.

    Thanks again!

  4. You should have stopped by the basement, and said hey!

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      Sadly, I don’t say, “Hey,” too much these days. I miss you and JJ and the basement.

  5. Thanks so much for the photos, and the tip about the Native American garden, I will definitely go looking for it.

  6. Kenneth Moffett says

    As far as student housing at UTK is concerned, the newstick-built west campus complex will barely replace the demolished high rise dorms. I could be wrong but they appeared eminently renovatable; perhaps they were removed because they did not comply with the university’s bogus requirement of faux collegiate gothic imagery. Over the decades the university paid little attention to on-campus student housing needs, contributing to the many cheaply built condo developments that destroyed much of Fort Sanders and now loom over Cumberland Ave.

    • Jacqueline Arthur says

      It has also contributed to the disintegration of the Old Sevier neighborhood in South Knoxville. In addition to the 2 massive student apartment complexes alongside Davenport Road and the ridge to the east of it, we now have another being constructed at Davenport and Sevier and another on the Kerns Bakery site and another and another….

  7. I would love to know where the Native American Interpretative Gardens are; are they contained within the UT Gardens on Jacob or is it somewhere else?

  8. Maggie Carini says

    I followed your advice to explore the Native American Interpretive Garden on the Ag campus. Lovely and instructive! It needs a little care and I thought I could spend a morning at least picking up the fallen branches to honor a Cherokee grandmother of old and to celebrate this week’s Supreme Court ruling in favor of tribal sovereignty. Wonder if UT would guide (allow) me? Anyone else interested?

  9. Adam Parish says

    Great pics. Two comments:

    1) One of the most out of place buildings on campus now is the Art and Architecture Building. Modernism rarely ages well and that building aligned more to the chaotic motif of the 70s and 80s. Thanks for not including a picture.

    2) Two of my favorite buildings on campus are Hopecote on Melrose and South College next to Ayers.

    • Kenneth Moffett says

      Had the art and architecture building been design recently, it would be interesting how discussion would have gone between the faculty and students, and Facilities Services, which last I heard required all new construction on campus to be collegiate gothic in style. I like collegiate gothic (I designed the collegiate gothicish Volunteer Blvd Garage, possibly one of a kind) but value some variety. The A&A Building, hardly “chaotic,” sits well on campus. If it’s looking grungy again it probably just needs cleaning, something that’s rare indeed at UTK.

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