The Talley Student Union will not only address deficiencies in the existing student center and adjacent NC State Bookstore operation, but it will also bring NC State into a new era of student life. It will:
- …be a hub for quality, student life experiences. Spaces will support student academics; help students balance life and academics; enable student collaboration, interaction and innovation; encourage personal growth and development.
- …become the center of the campus community. Provide students a community as the center of campus life that invigorates and invites participation and growth.
- …embrace the spirit, image and character of NC State University. The design exemplifies the values and history of the university and engenders pride of place for the campus community. A new landmark that is mindful of and respectful toward the existing campus character.
- …be pedestrian oriented. Serve as a campus crossroads as well as a destination.
- … incorporate transparent design, with clear views from the inside out and outside in. Visually connect spaces within the building and floor-to-floor, using volume and natural light to create open, airy and inviting spaces.
- …be sustainable and environmentally friendly. Utilize innovative design solutions to construct an energy-efficient building. The project will achieve a minimum USGBC certification of LEED Silver.
- …be built according to budget. Stay consistent with the budget not to exceed a student fee of $290 per year. Revenue-generating functions will provide additional funding for space that exceeds the original, programmed square footage.
The History of College Unions and Talley Student Union
The college union of today, with its conglomeration of meeting space, recreational and cultural programming, common areas, dining options, retail sale3s and campus offices, is originally descended from debating societies at Oxford and Cambridge universities. The Cambridge Union was founded in 1815 when three debating societies joined to form a larger debating association, i.e., a “union.” The Oxford Union followed suit in 1823. As the 19th century progressed, the Oxford Union took on characteristics of the gentlemen’s clubs of the era by adding a library and a smoking room and by serving coffee and wine to members.
At the turn of the twentieth century, many American colleges were dismal places that lacked residence halls, recreational facilities and food service. Some faculty and administrators were particularly concerned by the general lack of a university “commons,” a place where people from all parts of the university might meet and interact outside the classroom. President Woodrow Wilson, former president of Princeton University and an early proponent of the “British idea” of “communal life” at colleges, urged administrators to remember that “a college is not only a body of studies but a mode of association.”
The U.S. version of the college union started out as an attempt to address these concerns. The first college union in the United States, Harvard Union, was a debating society founded in 1880 at Harvard University. It took almost 20 years for the Harvard Union to acquire facilities that would allow it to fulfill its intended club-like social functions; in the meantime, the first college union facility, Houston Hall, opened at the University of Pennsylvania in 1896. Houston Hall was designed to be a place where all parts of the university could participate “in a wholesome social life.” The union’s functions extended far beyond those of its forebears to include a swimming pool, a gym, bowling alleys, a game room, an auditorium, office space and—crucially—a lunch counter. Also crucial to the concept of Houston Hall, and of the college union in general, was the notion that students must govern it.
College unions were slow to catch on at first. Beginning in the 1920s, however, a man named Porter Butts—known as the “father of the college union movement”—made it his lifelong mission to popularize the idea that every college needed a union that could function as a campus community center. After leading a fundraising campaign to construct a union building at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Butts became the first director of the Wisconsin Union in 1926. He had a strong impact on the development of a college union at NC State through his training of a student named Gerald Erdahl, who worked in the Wisconsin Union and graduated from Wisconsin in 1940. Erdahl drew on that valuable experience when he became the first director of a fledgling college union at NC State in 1949.
NC State’s official student-governed College Union organization was founded in 1951. The Union initially comprised the following student committees: gallery (art exhibitions), forum (speakers), films, theater, activities, games, outing (outdoor recreations), social (mixers), dance, music and publicity. The union’s first building (now the Erdahl-Cloyd wing of D.H. Hill Library) opened in 1954.
As the university expanded, the union outgrew its facility, and in 1972 the organization moved into the newly constructed Talley Student Center. NC State’s student body president at the time, Cathy Sterling, expressed concern that the union was becoming less of a student-run organization and more of a mere facility that was run by the administration. “By the time I came in . . . the student union had no connection with the word ‘union,’” she said. “It was just the building.”
The movement away from the core union idea and toward the concept of a multipurpose student center that paid for itself through student fees and retail operations could be seen across the nation as unions skyrocketed in popularity. In 1949 there were about 150 college unions; by 1961, that number had quadrupled to about 600; and in 1971 there were about 1,200 college unions nationwide. The relatively high inflation rates of the 1970s and the recession of the early 1980s combined to place greater economic pressure on higher education, which strengthened the perception of the union as an auxiliary enterprise with a primarily economic function.
Talley Student Center is now part of University Student Centers, a multi-unit, multi-facility umbrella organization that still performs the functions of the original College Union—and much more besides. University Student Centers includes Talley, Thompson Hall (University Theatre, Crafts Center), Price Music Center (Music Department), and Witherspoon Student Center (African American Cultural Center, Campus Cinema, Student Media).
NC State’s Student Life Master Plan, completed in 2008, calls for Talley to be renovated and expanded to serve an ever-increasing student population and to meet the needs of today’s mobile, information-hungry students. The renovation is intended to return Talley to its college union roots by making it a hub of student life that functions as the center of the campus community. In addition, the University Student Centers board of directors, a student-led governing body, has decided to take that effort one step further by changing the facility’s name. When phase I of the new Talley opens in September 2013 — 59 years to the month after the first College Union building opened — it will greet the world as Talley Student Union, a landmark building that helps students learn and grow beyond the classroom.