Interview of William Jess Griffith by Charles E. Corbató

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Title: Interview of William Jess Griffith by Charles E. Corbató
Creators: Griffith, William Jess, 1928-
Contributors: Corbató, Charles E.
Keywords: Ohio State University. Office of Campus Planning
University Hall
Master plan for West Campus
construction of Lincoln and Morrill Towers
campus planning for people with disabilities
Subjects (LCSH): Campus planning -- Ohio -- Columbus
College facilities -- Ohio -- Columbus -- Planning
Ohio State University -- Buildings
Griffith, William Jess, 1928- -- Interviews
Ohio State University -- History -- Sources
Issue Date: 2005
Publisher: Ohio State University Archives
Series/Report no.: Ohio State University. University Archives Oral History Program. Ohio State University Oral History Project
Abstract: Dr. William J. Griffith, born and raised in Ohio, was the first member of his family to attend college. After graduating in 1950 from Bowling Green State University, he began to teach mathematics and sciences at the secondary level at a small rural school. At age 25 he was appointed Superintendent of that school. After three years there, he was named Superintendent at a larger public school in Forest, Ohio. During his six years there he completed his master’s at Bowling Green, but then decided to enroll in Graduate School at Ohio State to earn his doctorate. He became a Graduate Research Associate in the Administration and Facilities Unit in the Bureau of Educational Research and Service of the College of Education. That office specialized in assisting public schools with various facilities related problems. His dissertation, supervised by Professors Arthur Wohlers and Marion Conrad, had to do with forecasting public school enrollment. Upon graduation Griffith accepted a faculty appointment in the College of Education, but after two years he moved in 1964 to central administration as a staff member in the Campus Planning Office. Under the direction of John Herrick, who was Head of Campus Planning, he worked to develop plans for building projects. Griffith developed a “program of requirements” which specified what was to be in the building – what kind of rooms and spaces, how they were equipped, what their functions were, etc. Starting in 1958, Herrick had initiated a campus master plan, one that was completed in 1962. He was very careful to solicit faculty and community comment in multiple public hearings. In 1967 Griffith succeeded the retiring John Herrick as Director of Campus Planning. His transition to his new campus-wide responsibilities was eased by his staff of twelve who represented diverse skills, including specialists in urban planning, campus mapping, graphics, data processing, and computer programming. A major task was to revise the Master Plan adopted under John Herrick in 1962. Among the innovations started under Griffith were the development of master plans for each of the University’s regional campuses, the completion of geodetic mapping of the campus, development of a campus signage system, and starting the program for modifying campus facilities for use by people with physical impairments. At the time there were no federal or state mandates regarding physical impairment, but Griffith obtained two federal grants, one for more than a million dollars, that provided money for curb ramps, restroom modification. Some additional monies came from the Board of Regents, but later most of the funds came from the standard building budget. In time every building on campus became handicapped-accessible. “I think that was one of the major things that we did.” Another major innovation was the creation of the University District Organization, which in partnership with Battelle and Chemical Abstracts, worked to develop a planning process for the area around campus. Griffith’s authority did not extend to Don Scott Field, which had its own separate Master Plan, although he believed that the University Airport staff had made considerable efforts to address the complaints of neighbors near the airport. Dr. Griffith was very much involved in the development of the Master Plan for the West Campus. He cites various reasons why West Campus never developed as a suitable teaching environment. Once President Ed Jennings decided in 1981 to bring West Campus students back to the main campus, the Campus Planning Office had to develop plans to accommodate them amid a scarcity of classroom space. Many buildings had to be transformed in a process that took several years. During the widespread campus disruptions in the spring of 1970, relatively little damage was done to the physical plant. Several small fires were started in wastebaskets, and there were some broken windows. One positive outcome of the riots was they helped persuade some people of the need to make the central campus a pedestrian zone free of significant automobile traffic. Some streets were closed, and key card access gates were installed in several locations. The major complaint involved closing a section of Neil Avenue to public access which had been used until then by between 5,000 to 7,000 cars daily. The City Traffic Department complained loud and long. The controversial decision to construct the two massive Towers, Lincoln and Morrill, on the banks of the Olentangy River, had been opposed by Griffith and the Office of Campus Planning. But the genuine need for student housing was compelling, and Griffith and his Office were overruled. The initial plan called for 96 students per floor, but this proved unworkable, and the dormitories proved unpopular. Eventually over half of the space was converted to administrative use even though it had never been designed for that. The Campus Planning Office was there for two years from 1971 to 1973. Even more controversial was the decision to tear down University Hall, the oldest building on campus. Engineering studies were done and the building was deemed unsafe, plus various modifications made since 1871 meant that it was not really the original building. So the decision was made to tear it down and replace it with one that looked on the outside like the original. Many alumni complained of this decision. At various times over his sixteen-year tenure, Griffith reported to several different senior administrators. These included the Provost, Jack Corbally, Vice President, Ned Moulton, and fiscal officers Dick Zimmerman, Bill Vandament, and Weldon Ihrig. His own support staff was remarkably stable, only two or three left. Griffith and his staff played a major role in discussions with the state of Ohio over construction of the Olentangy Freeway through the campus in the late 1970’s. His recommendation was accepted that the university should donate the land to the state in exchange for the state building the road and necessary railroad underpass to the West Campus. Thus, the state assumed all costs in building Woody Hayes Drive. Another major recommendation of Griffith was to develop a new formula for allocating facility costs for laboratory space, which, because of higher utility use for power, gas, and water, had much higher maintenance costs. This new statistical method was accepted by federal auditors, and resulted in a saving of millions of dollars for the university. Griffith retired from full-time service in 1983, but continued to work on a part-time basis until 1992. He was in charge of the development of the memorial for Jesse Owens. He also was a consultant for several other universities. His final comment praised the major contributions of three university Presidents, Novice Fawcett, Harold Enarson, and Edward Jennings. All three were the “right people” for their own times and challenges. Major Themes Contributions of William Griffith during 16 years as Head of Campus Planning Creation of the University District Organization for extra-campus planning Making the campus accessible to handicapped people Construction of West Campus, and Lincoln and Morrill Towers Controversial decisions to rebuild University Hall, and restrict auto traffic on central campus Development of Master Plans for each of the four Regional Campuses
Description: Dr. Arthur Wohlers: Professor of Education (p. 4) -- Dr. Marion Conrad: Professor of Education (p. 4) -- John Herrick: Head of the Campus Planning Office (pp. 4-5, 8) -- Edward “Ned” Moulton: Vice President (pp. 6, 15, 22) -- Jean Hansford: campus improvements for handicapped access (p. 9) -- Novice Fawcett: President (p. 27) -- Harold Enarson: President (pp. 27-28) -- Ed Jennings: President (pp. 27-28)
Other Identifiers: SPEC.RG.40.259
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