By Peter Likins
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday Feb. 14, 2002
The Battle of the Boojums is over, and the boojums have held their ground. True to their origins in Lewis Carroll's "The Hunting of the Snark," the boojums waged a fierce battle against an imaginary foe, "winning" what they were gladly given. Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" never witnessed a more perplexing scene.
Perhaps others will see a stronger parallel is The Battle of New Orleans (1815), which General Andy Jackson won long after the truce of peace with France was signed in Europe. Communication between Europe and the United States was by sailing vessel in those days, and mail crossing the Atlantic Ocean took more than a month.
"But oh, beamish nephew, beware of the day,
If your Snark be a Boojum! for then
you will softly and suddenly vanish away,
and never be met with again!"
- From "The Hunting of the Snark" by Lewis Carroll
In this age of electronic communication, one might expect that the flurry of e-mail in December would have been sufficient to persuade the defenders of the boojums that these magnificent specimens in the Krutch cactus garden were no longer in peril, but it seems that only bad news travels fast. The campaign to save the boojums continued to gather steam with protest demonstrations, editorials, and petitions to the president, despite my personal response to dozens of e-mails over the December holidays assuring all critics that our landscape architecture firm would be charged with finding alternatives to the original proposal to transplant all of the Krutch cactus garden to a larger site surrounding Old Main. Only when that new plan emerged with the boojum site intact, as part of an expanded and renewed Krutch cactus garden, did the hullabaloo begin to die down. Final plans were presented to PADRAC (Planning and Design Review Advisory Committee) on Feb. 8, to unanimous approval. The matter will soon be resolved, to my immense relief. Only then will I be able to concentrate my full attention once again on The Battle of the Budget.
The role of the Alumni Association in this process needs some explanation. As the University leadership contemplated the prospect of completing all of the building projects on the Mall, we realized that the outdoor space connecting these new buildings should be not only restored but improved as an integral part of the mall enhancement project. However, in a public university, there is no money available for this kind of work. (Private universities invest in campus beautification as a magnet to attract key people, but that strategy does not find acceptance among most public university constituencies.) The Alumni Association came to our rescue with the offer to raise the funds required to create an Alumni Plaza extending south from the Administration building across the Mall, providing outdoor connection between the new Student Union and the new Integrated Learning Center. This project requires several million dollars, which alumni volunteers have to raise from the general alumni body. Without their help, we are unable to restore and enhance the Mall. Motivated by a deep regard for our campus, our heritage, and our current students, Arizona alumni have stepped up to the challenge and are now trying to raise the money.
The Alumni Association engaged a landscape architecture firm of national distinction, which has produced an exciting design that has gained widespread campus approval. However, the initial design relied upon advice that it would be possible to restore the original cactus gardens around Old Main by relocating the Krutch cactus garden. Expert feedback on campus immediately indicated that transplanting the boojums would be extremely risky to their survival. The Alumni Association President, Sandy Ruhl, told me before the Christmas holidays that the preliminary proposal needed a fresh look, with consequent delay in the project. During the holidays, as the architects were developing an alternative plan that incorporated an expanded Krutch cactus garden on the current site, the continuing feedback to the original plan strengthened our realization that it would be too risky to transplant the boojums. It became clear that a new plan for an Alumni Plaza incorporating the Krutch Garden was the way to go. Until we saw such a plan, however, we could not easily endorse it publicly, and that void left the critics of the original plan with no satisfaction. The battle therefore continued, with wholly inappropriate attacks on our alumni volunteers, until finally a new plan was submitted for public scrutiny. I truly believe that our alumni and the Alumni Association deserve more praise and less criticism than they have received thus far, and I hope the support they need for the success of their project will now be forthcoming.
In the aftermath of this unnecessary conflict, I ask myself how we can transfer the energy devoted to this Battle of the Boojums to our continuing Battle of the Budget, which has a much more uncertain outcome. We were all really on the same side in the boojum battle, but in the Battle of the Budget we have to face formidable opposing forces that will require all our energy to overcome. I hope that our legislators receive even more correspondence about the budget than I have received about the boojums, but I think they probably have some catching up to do.