Most students are bewildered and angry over the decision to remove the campus fountain, a place of fond memories and tradition, and replace it with The Elephant Family.
Their two most common complaints are: (1) the campus lost an invaluable cool spot during the hot season, and (2) the tradition of throwing freshmen classmates into the fountain's pool on their birthdays is over. Indeed, one freshman with a June birthday feels that he has been cheated out of every Donggukian's "birthright."
Students also resent being presented with a fait accompli; that is, their opinion was not even considered before the removal of the fountain, the most identifiable feature on campus, apart from the Buddha statue, and one very dear to students' hearts. "No one asked for our permission" is a common sentiment among students.The fountain's arching spray was as much of a harbinger of seasonal change as is the coming of cherry blossoms. "Suppose someone came along and cut down the cherry blossom trees?" a sophomore complained. Though I personally don't miss seeing students dragged to the fountain on their birthdays and thrown fully clothed into its filthy pool.
I was rather bemused the first time I saw this birthday "baptism." But I was shocked, and chilled to the bone, to see three students, including a coed, thrown into the pool in March. As those sodden students were being dragged out of the pool, they looked like ship-wrecked sailors being rescued from the frigid North Atlantic after their ship had been torpedoed.
What's more, every student knows a story of a friend who had to visit a dermatologist after getting an infection from the fountaintion from the fountain's dirty water, not to mention those students who had to visit Cheil Hospital to have injuries attended to after their "baptisms."Another problem with the campus fountain was that it lost its esthetic appeal once the hot season ended. Then the fountain wasn't much more than a concrete eyesore for the rest of the year.
The Elephant Family, by contrast, is fun to look at all year round. For the sculptor, Cho Seung-hwan, a professor in the College of Fine Arts, has captured the rotund physique and languorous movements of elephants, right down to the nervous switch of baby "Dumbo's" tail.
My appeal to artistic merit did not mollify one angry sophomore. "Dongguk is a university campus, not a zoo," he thundered. "If I wanted to look at elephants, I'd go to a zoo." In its defense, the circular lawn that the three elephants "graze" on has created much more sitting space on the quadrangle, something the shrubbery and rosebushes encircling the fountain precluded.
Some students complain about the scale of the elephants, which, they say, dominates an already cramped quadrangle. Others say that as icons of the University the elephants should be welcoming everyone entering the campus at Hyehwa Gate.
It is true that up close the adult elephants do look, well, jumbo. But an overview of the quad from the 3rd floor of Myongjin Hall affords a better perspective, and from there they don't look out of proportion to their surroundings.
What prompted this controversial change to the campus architecture? It seems that someone decided that a fitting tribute was in order for the 95th anniversary of thefounding of this Buddhist University, and he wanted it done in a really big way - ergo the elephants. In juxtaposition with the Buddha statue The Elephant Family does appear to be the embodiment of Buddhism as a viable religion being overseen by the benevolent Buddha.
It saddens me nonetheless to see The Elephant Family further diminish the status of the old campus elephant, which has been relegated to relative obscurity behind shrubbery on the edge of the quad. How many of us even notice that he's there? Yet the old boy, too, has had his day in the sun atop a pedestal overlooking the playing field and in plain view of all Donggukians. One day, alas, our University's icon was unceremoniously removed from the pedestal and replaced by an abstract swastika.There is, of course, the complaint that the elephants are a waste of money. But I wouldn't be at all surprised if they were a gift to the University from the sculptor. Students shrug off that possibility, responding with a refrain that is reverberating around the campus: "Give us back our fountain!"If there was a waste of money, it is that faux rock fountain and "rustic" waterwheel facing Haklim Hall. That thing's hissing was so distracting that students had it turned off by the first week of the semester.
Actually, some of the improvements that have made this campus a more student-friendly place have been relatively cheap. Whatever the costs were for constructing outdoor basketball courts and porches - especially the porch overlooking the playing field - they are negligible in comparison to what students have gained.The Dongguk campus used to be a place where students went to the library, the subway or to "student street" After classes were over for the day. There was little affinity for the campus per se. Now the campus has its own cafe society - courtesy of the aforementioned porch and another well-placed porch next to Hyehwa Hall - and the basketball courts are crowded all day and well into night. Both of them have contributed to campus ambience, and given students an affinity for campus life, as well. Leaving the Buddha's Birthday lanterns aglow at night until the end of the semester would be another simple way to enhance campus ambience. Why not? The lanterns do add mystique to the campus after dark, and probably foster an affinity for the campus among night school students, too. Many of the night school students, sadly, didn't even know that there was a campus fountain, let alone a newly-arrived elephant family.Now if something could only be done about that mini-dump behind the Professors?Building. It always depresses me when I exit this building on my way to cross the bridge connecting it with Hyehwa Hall and I'm met by paint fumes or by the noise of workmen doing some rough job there. Dust, mud and piles of rubble are other annoyances when traversing this mimi-dump on the way to Hyehwa Gate.
In 1995, the Buddhist leadership wisely broke with Dongguk University tradition by choosing a layman, Song Suk-ku, as the new University president. President Song was given carte blanche to upgrade Dongguk University and to put it on track to become a first-rate university. The myriad improvements to our campus are proof enough that President Song is eminently qualified to lead this Buddhist University in the 21st century.
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