To the Editor:
On October 21, in this publication, the University made its first public statement regarding the Scammon Garden issue. The community should not allow itself to be lulled by what they read. Until I saw Ms. Calmetta Coleman’s convenient language, I believed the University to be guilty only of 112 years of neglect. Today, I believe this administration has crossed the line into a deliberate and active attempt to attack history.
The University is now poised to do the same with Scammon Garden that they did with Scammon Court — let it fall into oblivion by their own neglect, on a claim of having fulfilled their strict legal obligations. This not only is untrue, it does nothing to address their moral obligations. I am asking all neighbors, faculty, alumni, and benefactors to urge others to sign the petition at j.mp/savescammon. The more I learn about the Scammon history, the more persuaded I am that this is a proper course of action.
The legal obligation remains that all of land to the south must “be known as Scammon Court.” Two small plaques have been insufficient to do this job on their own over 112 years. It appears from the deed that Mrs. Scammon may have been hoping that the University might name a building for her husband atop that land, but she died two days after donating the land to the University and the naming went to Anita McCormick Blaine, who paid for school construction in memory of her son.
The Blaine building sitting on the covenanted Scammon land encloses a small quadrangle; this fact, added to the University’s weak efforts to actively preserve the Scammon memory, made it inevitable that even this remaining enclosure would soon become known as “Blaine Courtyard.”
So much for legal obligations. Morally speaking, the University and Chicago actually owe the Scammon family far more than what is compelled under the loosely observed covenant. Not only have they refused action, they are now saying that they reserve the right to take what remains in a few years, sometime when our backs are turned.
I believe it is precisely due to the southern covenant’s practical shortcomings on the one hand, and the public veneration for the family on the other hand, that the Lab community has unconsciously, accidentally, and informally maintained the memory of the Scammon family in the northern garden — which happens to be where the family actually resided. Generations of right-minded staff and alumni thus unwittingly rescued the Scammon name from oblivion caused by the University’s distractions.
However, the University has never committed to formally recognizing Scammon Garden, and the recent statement makes it clear that they have no intention of doing so. Through Ms. Coleman’s comment, Mr. Zimmer is officially stating outright that some future board of trustees may well rename the land at some future date.
Confusing the past, and a blank check for the future. This should not be the University of Chicago way.
And so, we must compel the University to do the right thing. We are asking that the Board of Trustees resolve never to rename Scammon Garden; to publicly mark the site and list it as such on campus maps; to voluntarily memorialize the family on this 125th anniversary of Mr. Scammon’s death and the 150th anniversary of the 13th Amendment, which his early energies helped to secure; and for other suitable remedies. This is not a handout — the Scammon family has more than earned this from the University.
Lab School parent