Spoiled for quadrangles by my past college experience, I could not help note on first study that the quad at UC Davis has no campanile or carillon; its clock chimes come from some hidden electronic facsimile. Its oldest buildings are the prosaically named North and South Hall, of 1908-12 vintage; most of what surrounds it are hunkering mid-century hit-or-miss structures.
Yet the first time I saw the UCD quad I gasped at the lane of trees whose limbs met in a graceful arch over the road. Misinformed that they were elms, I thought of the tombstone to the Ostrander elms at my alma mater—but the Davis trees are in fact, and appropriately for this outpost of the wine country, cork oaks.
There are two such lanes, one on the east and one on the western side of the quad. (You can, in fact, get quite easily around the very large quad. It would take tanks truly to occupy it; the protesters were not blocking access to anything.)
Across the north side, more trees shade the plate-glass windows of the Memorial Union and the south side sees Shields Library. You don’t have to walk too far off the quad to find a couple of the iconic egghead statues, one of them “Bookhead,” at the entrance to the library; where Cornell has “Song of the Vowels” and Stanford has Rodin’s thinker, UCD has an egghead with its nose stuck in a book.
Arnesen’s statue seems to me both to depict the general earnestness of UCD’s students and gently tweak the myopia of the whole intellectual enterprise. Together with the other eggheads it summarizes the kind of lightness with which UCD wears its undeniable erudition.
That Arnesen’s eggheads became the campus’s signature art seems right: though it UCD was once the University Farm and remains the agricultural campus (and like many agricultural campuses has become home to genetic researches) it is also a full-service campus and home to figures, like Arnesen and Gary Snyder, whose reputations have more to do with arts and letters than tomatoes or grapes. (Perhaps its most famous, if fleeting, faculty member was John Kenneth Galbraith, who taught here during the Depression.)
Davis suffers most by being only 65 miles from Berkeley, which (as a small town hosting a campus that is not the UC’s flagship) it will never be. Yet it benefits too from its proximity to San Francisco, to the wine country, to the mountains. For many years it was the UC’s best-kept secret—home to top-notch faculty and relatively low cost of living in Northern California, an excellent place to pursue graduate study in the social sciences and humanities. Then came the housing bubble and bust and the present unpleasantness.
One hopes some of this carefully husbanded credibility, this long-nurtured life, will not waste completely in the current crisis.