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Art and Design Building to be named for former Chancellor Laurence Chalmers

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

LAWRENCE — It was August 1969 when the 11th chancellor of the University of Kansas, E. Laurence Chalmers, arrived on the Hill.

It will be August 2015 that his name is forever displayed on Mount Oread.

On Sunday, Aug. 23, the building currently known as the Art and Design Building will be dedicated and designated as E. Laurence Chalmers Hall. The naming ceremony will take place at 3 p.m. in Marvin Hall, followed by a reception in the newly named Chalmers Hall student study area.

“The naming of the Art and Design Building in former Chancellor Chalmers’ memory is a fitting way to kick off this year’s KU 150 celebration,” said Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little. “Chancellor Chalmers was an integral figure in KU’s history. He created a precedent for resiliency in times of hardship, and we are so pleased to have this opportunity to honor his legacy.”

Gray-Little will speak at Sunday’s event, along with Zoe Newton, vice chair of the Kansas Board of Regents, and William M. Tuttle Jr., professor emeritus of American studies. Chalmers’ sons — E. Laurence Chalmers III and Thomas Chalmers — will be in attendance, as will former KU chancellors Del Shankel and Archie Dykes.

Once the building is designated, it will be the first time that every previous KU chancellor is represented by a building on campus.

The naming ceremony is part of a larger schedule of Hawk Week events that includes Traditions Night on Saturday, Aug. 22, and Opening Convocation on Sunday, Aug. 23. All events are open to the KU community and public.

Hailed as a student and faculty advocate at Florida State University, Chalmers arrived in Lawrence during a time where the rights of both groups were tested by oppression and violence. He inherited a university in the midst of turmoil in response to the Vietnam War and widespread civil unrest.

In his first speech to students and faculty, Chalmers addressed concerns of the day.

“A true university cannot long survive disruption from within or repression from without,” he said in his inaugural address to the university. “We have the right and indeed the obligation to defend our institution against both of these destructive forces.” These words are emblazoned on the dedication plaque that will hang in Chalmers Hall.

During his three-year tenure as chancellor, Chalmers handled crises such as the burning of the Kansas Union and attacks on the Military Science Building. Despite calls from the Kansas Legislature and the Kansas Board of Regents to quell student protests and oust controversial professors, Chalmers remained a staunch supporter of freedom of assembly and academic expression.

In many accounts of Chalmers’ leadership, focus is given to the challenges of his administration, not his triumphs. In May 1970, with the help of Student Senate and faculty, Chalmers prevented more violence on campus by giving students the choice to continue or end their coursework early. He remained focused on students — never bowing to the pressure of the state to suppress students’ ability to protest, yet always maintaining campus safety.

Chalmers brought in significant donations to the university and opened the Wichita campus of the KU Medical Center in 1971. Construction of Wescoe Hall, dedicated in honor of former Chancellor W. Clarke Wescoe, began during Chalmers’ time on the Hill. Chalmers strengthened the system of shared governance between Student Senate and university administration that still exists today. When Chalmers resigned from the university in 1972, the Wichita Eagle put it best: “Students are the losers.”

A supporter of the arts, Chalmers went on to become the director of the Art Institute of Chicago Art for nine years.

He died in 2009.

“Chancellor Chalmers was a scholar, an advocate and a Jayhawk,” Gray-Little said. “We are proud to honor his memory and his legacy of academic freedom and freedom of speech at the University of Kansas.”