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Tom Harper: Celebrating 41 years of a KU campus icon (Column)

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Note: The Lawrence Times runs opinion columns and letters to the Times written by community members with varying perspectives on local issues. These pieces do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Times staff.

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Today we celebrate the 41st anniversary of the installation of Moses in front of Smith Hall, gazing at the beautiful stained glass that represents the Burning Bush. 

The humble scholar seeking knowledge. 

The Moses sculpture was created by world-renowned bronze artist and KU professor Elden Tefft.

The University of Kansas last year placed Smith Hall on a list of 12 buildings deemed obsolete, “demolition ready,” and likely to be razed in fiscal year 2023.

Over the last 10 months, many people have made their voices heard to the administration at KU, the Kansas Board of Regents and our legislators with the State of Kansas. Rep. Mike Amyx, a Lawrence Democrat, in March offered an amendment to the budget that was aimed at ensuring KBOR would have an opportunity to receive complete information about KU’s plans for Smith Hall before voting again on demolition, and that the public would also have an opportunity to offer testimony to KBOR on the topic.

The Legislature’s budget conference committee met on April 27 and, after some negotiation, agreed to include a Smith Hall proviso in the budget bill. That bill was approved by both chambers. (Catch up on more of the background at SaveSmithHall.org.)

Now the Smith Hall proviso is being considered within the budget by Gov. Laura Kelly. We are hopeful the proviso will remain intact.

Tom Harper/Lawrence Times

I came across this quote below, a memory and reflection on the momentous day Moses was installed in 1982. The sculpture had been in the works since 1967 — 15 years in the making. 

“On May 12, 1982, under the glow of a warm spring sun, the Moses statue was finally dedicated … Irma I. Smith spoke of her hope for Smith Hall, and Chancellor Gene Budig spoke of his pleasure that this depiction of the university seal was completed and at such an important place.” (From the Bible on Mount Oread: A History of the Kansas Bible Chair, 1988)

Kenneth Spencer Research Library/Courtesy Irma I. Smith

This quote stands in stark contrast from the current administration’s view of Smith Hall. I wonder what Chancellor Douglas Girod would say today as compared to Budig? Perhaps his thoughts have changed over the past several months?

Administrations come and go, but historic buildings and the unique three-dimensional representation of the University Kansas seal should remain. Smith Hall is a sacred space. It’s been a hub for humanities for thousands of KU students and faculty who have helped make the world, the state of Kansas and our community a better place.

Smith Hall should be properly maintained and renovated. Prior commitments should be honored. Institutional memory should be retained and respected.

Let’s hope Smith Hall, Moses and the Burning Bush survive another 41 years, and that Gov. Kelly retains the Smith Hall proviso in the budget.

I am certain Irma I. Smith and Elden Tefft would appreciate our community’s response to KU’s desire to demolish the building.

Tom Harper/Lawrence Times
Tom Harper/Lawrence Times

About the writer

Tom Harper is a Realtor at Stephens Real Estate helping people in Lawrence and Douglas County buy and sell real estate. He is the founder of Lawrence Modern, a group whose mission is to raise awareness of midcentury and modern architecture. You will find him posting frequently on Instagram under @lawrencemodern, sharing his daily observations of his favorite place on earth: Lawrence, Kansas. Read more of Tom’s writing for The Lawrence Times here.

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