Student Center Ribbon Cutting in the Wake of Lowry’s Legacy

Photo Courtesy: Youtube. Richard Bell cutting ribbon, Toni Clark to immediate right.
Julia Garrison, Contributing Writer

The ribbon cutting for the renovated Lowry Student Center took place this past Saturday, Feb. 25, at 12:00 p.m. in the Brush Lobby. Many members of The College of Wooster’s Board of Trustees were in attendance and around campus for most of the weekend, kicking off their limited engagement with the Wooster student body with “Missions and Outcomes.” “Missions and Outcomes,” held on Thursday, Feb. 23, was an event hosted by Scot Council to encourage open dialogue between the student body and the Board of Trustees, and for Trustees to hear feedback and concerns from the student body.  

Interim President Wayne Webster opened the ribbon cutting ceremony with a short speech thanking those “whose gifts and generosity allowed us to break ground on this project… and for generous individual and collective support.” Webster continued within his speech by thanking the College’s contacts at Bergmeyer Associates and Karpinski Engineering, as well as staff and faculty and committees involved within the process of the renovation.  

Followed by Webster was Rachel Lanzafame from Bergmeyer Associates, Wooster’s architectural contact for the project. Lanzafame began her speech by thanking donors specifically for the renovation project, stating that “the fact that this project was completely donor-funded is a tremendous achievement.” Lanzafame also thanked Bogner Construction Company and the Project Steering Committee. Lanzafame outlined the vision and process of creating a design for the student center, explaining that unique perspectives of student voices were acknowledged, especially within ideas for the second floor.  

Adam Bogner from Bogner Construction Company followed Lanzafame. Bogner has had a long history with The College of Wooster, as the company was contracted to assist in the renovation (or reimagining) of Gault Schoolhouse, The Scot Center, Armington Hall, Ruth W. Williams Hall of Life Sciences and Kauke Hall. Bogner thanked a similar community as Lanzafame, explaining that with their support that Bogner was able to “deliver another important project on time and on budget.”

Two student representatives, Isabel Espinosa ’23 and Grace Braver ’23, discussed their excitement upon completion of the new student center after Bogner completed his speech. Espinosa thanked the Wooster community for being able to operate when many operations, including dining, within the student center were put on hold due to construction. Braver commended the inclusion of accessibility within the new building, as well as the open spaces that fosters “welcomed conversations between the students, the faculty and the staff.” 

The speeches were followed by an official ribbon cutting by Richard J. Bell ’63 and Toni Clark, followed by a procession by the Pipe Band leading into an open house where Trustees and visitors could take self-guided tours of the newly renovated building.  

No members of the Board of Trustees spoke at the ribbon-cutting event, which contradicts the major role that the Board had in making the renovated student center possible. On March 1, 2021, an official press release from The Office of Alumni & Family Engagement was released to announce that fundraising goals had been met for “the renovation and expansion of Lowry Center.” At the forefront of the donation efforts were Richard Bell ’63 and Toni Clark, who cut the ribbon on Saturday. This March 2021 press release featured Bell and Clark as titular donors, explaining that their total support of $10 million had secured “the Lowry name on the signature campus building.” (The Office of Alumni and Family Engagement) Bell and Clark specifically requested for the Lowry name to be carried on to the newly renovated student center, Bell praising Dr. Howard F. Lowry ’23 in his invention of the Independent Study program (I.S.) and his leadership. This press release from The Office of Alumni and Family Engagement did not come without a response.  

A month later, April 12, The Board of Trustees sent a message to the Wooster community to outline the “steps that the Board of Trustees is taking to respond to concerns raised regarding former College President Howard Lowry,” explaining that members of the community of college alumni had spoken out about Dr. Lowry’s actions. The message detailed that concerns had been reported to the board, but that the community owes it “to the memory of President Lowry and those members of the College community who knew and respected him not to rush to judgment, but to base any conclusions we reach and decisions we make on a fair evaluation of the information we obtain.” (Board of Trustees Chairs) In the message, the Board also detailed their next steps, which included making a special committee made up entirely of trustees who would work with an independent individual or firm to advise the board on the appropriate action to be taken by the Trustees.  

On April 16, an article published in The Voice featured stories from different women who had experiences with Dr. Lowry, detailing strange behavior towards young, newly-graduated women from the College while he was in a position of executive power at the College, whether that be as a professor or the College President. The Voice article noted that the women who were speaking out about Dr. Lowry had contacted the College prior to the announcement about the continued usage of the Lowry name, but also were in contact immediately after the announcement, which was mentioned in the message from the Trustees as well. 

The article in The Voice detailed true and real stories from women who were affected by Dr. Lowry, which provided members of the community a look into Dr. Lowry’s questionable behavior. During the time of investigation, no documents or evidence was made public by the special committee appointed by the Board of Trustees. Voice Editor-in-Chief Samuel Bourdreau ’23 wrote a viewpoint for The Voice last month (“A Tale of Two Committees”) that questioned the validity of this special committee for being composed entirely of members of the board, whereas other committees such as the Presidential Search Committee was made up of members of the community ranging from trustees, students, faculty and administration.  

On October 4, 2021, Board of Trustees Chair Sally Staley ’78 and Vice Chair Tom Gibian ’76 sent a message to the Wooster community detailing the special committee’s findings. Dr. Lowry did pursue several relationships with women who had recently graduated from the college, and even suggested employment at the College for these women. This is true, and outlined in a quote from the April 16 Voice article detailing Lowry’s offerings of jobs at the College for the women he was pursuing, including his inventing of new job positions in an attempt to persuade these women to return to the College. The Voice coverage of Lowry’s invention of new job titles was not mentioned in the special committee’s findings. The committee, noting that Lowry did, in fact, have relationships with newly-graduated students, recommended to the Board that it was unnecessary to make any changes to the student center’s name or any other “Lowry-named honors,” as Dr. Lowry’s “conduct did not fit the definition of sexual harassment in the 1960s or today.” (Lowry Special Committee Official Findings Slideshow)

Although the Lowry name remains, speculation is still raised within the way in which the Board of Trustees and the College handled the situation. The special committee’s findings announcement is a short summary of their findings, and a long summary of Dr. Lowry’s achievements at Wooster. Although many alumni “talked about the way he inspired them”, the stories of the women outlined in the Wooster Voice article from earlier within the year should not go unrecognized. The College and The Board of Trustees missed a vital opportunity to make a meaningful statement that the College does not condone this behavior from any college professional, whether it rises to the level of sexual harassment or not.  

Bell was not available for comment at the ribbon cutting as his family left immediately following the ending of the ceremony. 

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