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Davis, California

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Looking into Kerr Hall


Building provides budding history, questions for students

Buildings such as The Death Star and Olson Hall stand out on the UC Davis campus because of their unique structures. Although other buildings are not as well-known, they still pose a great significance to UC Davis. Near the academic hub that is Wellman Hall, Kerr Hall is defined by the red bricks that line up its six stories. It’s one of the tallest buildings on campus, and the interior of each floor is painted a different color.

“Kerr Hall and Wellman, which [are] from the same sort of wave of buildings are just very functional utilitarian buildings,” said Laramie Taylor, associate professor in the Department of Communications. “They were designed to meet specific needs for the university.”

Kerr Hall formerly housed both the Mathematics and Statistics Departments. When the departments were moved, Kerr Hall was abandoned for about a year, until it was restored in 2007. Now, Kerr Hall houses the Linguistics, Political Science and Communication Departments  on different floors of the building.

“I think it’s really valuable that we’re getting multiple departments from the division of social sciences closer together,” Taylor said. “Before Kerr Hall, we were just all over campus. It’s hard to maintain a sense of identity if you’ve never seen the people with whom you share that identity.”

The Department of Political Science resides in the top three floors of Kerr Hall. Due to competition for getting a top-most office, the department actually auctioned off the offices on the top floor around 2008. If a faculty member wanted an office on the top floor, it would cost them about $1,000 more.

“It is a terrific view because there’s nothing else obstructing it — there’s no other buildings getting in your way,” Taylor said.

Zoey Liu, a teaching assistant and graduate student in linguistics, also has an office in Kerr Hall. According to Liu, there is a “secret” tunnel on the first floor of Kerr Hall that lets out at the bottom floor of Wellman Hall.

“I’ve never walked down it […but] I’ve seen it,” Liu said. “Last Fall Quarter a lot of my friends took the shortcut to class and it would save [about] 30 seconds.”

In 1975, Kerr Hall was dedicated to Clark Kerr. After receiving his Ph.D. from UC Berkeley, Clark Kerr returned to Berkeley as the head of the Institute of Industrial Relations. In 1949, the UC Regents had employees sign an anti-communist loyalty oath. Clark Kerr signed the oath himself, but also fought to retain the faculty that didn’t sign. This won him regard from the faculty and helped Kerr make his way to becoming UC Berkeley’s first chancellor in 1952.

In 1958, Kerr became the 12th president of the UC, and oversaw the creation of three UC campuses during his presidency: UC Irvine, UC San Diego and UC Santa Cruz. Now, UC Davis, UC Santa Barbara and UC Santa Cruz have buildings named after him.

Some students may know next-to-nothing about Kerr Hall, despite it being named after an important figure in the UC’s history. The Special Collections at UC Davis houses the University Archives and information about the campus buildings. About three or four times a year, Special Collections puts on exhibits from their collection about the history of the Davis campus.

“We’re interested in gathering and building history, and it’s a good place to start for doing research on building history,” said head of special collections Daryl Morrison.

According to Taylor, UC Davis students and faculty share a very pragmatic approach to education and learning in the college experience. This may be the reason that many students and faculty alike are not aware of the relevance of the buildings they’re in.

“Our students are hard workers, and they are engaged, and they’re community-minded, but they’re here to get [an] education,” Taylor said. “There’s not a lot of sentimentality, superstition or whatever it is that makes every student at Harvard touch the statue of John Harvard on the foot when they walk […] to their first class — it’s just not here.”

Over three years ago, Taylor saw that someone had placed a bike reflector on the frame of the portrait of Clark Kerr in Kerr Hall. Rather than taking it off, Taylor chose to wait and see how long it would be until someone noticed and removed it. After a whole three and half years, the reflector was finally removed.

“This reflector didn’t look like it belonged, but nobody both looked at it and cared enough to move it,” Taylor said. “I don’t know if that’s entirely a bad thing. […] We’re a world-class university, but in many ways but we’re just a really well-kept secret.”


Written by: Fatima Siddiqui — features@theaggie.org


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