Bust of College Founder Attracts Attention – Good and Bad
BY ANDREW FLANIGAN
With no other representation of the college’s founder on campus, an anonymous donor commissioned a bronze bust of Reverend William Robertson that has been placed at the head of the freshman quad. But the high visibility of the piece has its disadvantages as well, leading so far to accidents and acts of vandalism.
At the beginning of the fall semester, Westminster College placed the statue of Reverend William Robertson, founder of the school, at the north end of the Freshman Quad. The bust, gifted by an anonymous donor, commemorates the former location of Robertson Dining Hall. Now in place of the previous dining hall is Sloss Hall with Robertson keeping watch. In addition to bringing attention to the college, much attention has been brought to the bust itself as students have been seen vandalizing the structure.
Gina Campagna, director of advancement services, said: “The anonymous donor was the vision and leadership behind this project. He wanted to make sure there was something tangible on campus to honor the leadership of Westminster’s founding father, Rev. William W. Robertson.”
Robertson served as a minister in the First Presbyterian Church of Fulton, and led the congregation in founding Fulton College in 1851. Two years later, the Synod of Missouri of the Presbyterian Church, USA, assumed control of the college, opting for a more Presbyterian name: Westminster College.
Following the demolition of Robertson Dining Hall in August 2007, nothing remained on campus to commemorate the founder of the college. The donor was concerned with this absence and began working with President Forsythe to honor Westminster’s early history. The donor said, “With the demolition of Robertson Dining Hall (Robbie) a few years ago, Dr. Robertson’s name virtually disappeared from the campus. There are a couple of pictures hanging around, but that’s it. He should certainly have a ‘place’ on campus. So, it seemed not only desirable but necessary.”
According to Dan Haslag, associate vice president for institutional operations, said, “The bust provides recognition of our institution’s founding father, placed in a location viewable to our current students, admission visitors, alumni, summer-housed camps and conferences, and general campus visitors.”
In addition to commemorating the former location of the Robertson Dining Hall, the placement of the bust at the north end of campus also serves a symbolic purpose. The donor said, “The Freshman Quad was President Forsythe’s preference, and I think he was correct. In this way, Dr. Robertson sort of overlooks ‘his’ campus from the high spot at Sloss Hall, surveying his domain, so to speak.”
While the Quad gives the bust a high level of visibility, the location in the freshman living area has had several disadvantages. Within a few days of its installation last semester, the bust was stolen late in the night only to be returned to its pedestal several hours later. Also, many students who inspected the statue immediately after it was first placed noticed how loosely it was secured to its base, leading many to believe the bust to be an easy target for vandalism.
Despite these concerns, Westminster Security remains confident in the safety of the bust. Haslag said, “[The bust] is placed in an area which is adequately lit at night, has a fair amount of pedestrian traffic, and is in direct view via the College’s surveillance cameras. Recently, there were additional measures taken to ensure the bust is adequately secured to the pedestal. I have faith in our campus community and do not anticipate any disrespect to this important monument.”
Nonetheless, the bust has been the subject of several pranks, including the addition of fake mustaches, jack-o’-lanterns, and the opportunity for countless selfies.
The sculptor who created the bust, Sabra Tull Meyer, is among the most well-known sculptors in Missouri. She was also the sculptor of the statue of Lewis and Clark on the grounds of the Missouri State Capitol.
By placing a statue in honor of the college’s founder, the donor says he hopes to inspire members of the Westminster community to fulfill the expectations of Robertson: “I hope that students come to recognize that one person can make a difference. Dr. Robertson certainly did. Of course, to develop his dream took a lot of other people to agree with that dream and to give their time, talent and money, but he was the catalyst. If he had not done what he did, would someone else have taken the same steps? Maybe so, maybe not. But he did it and deserves recognition for that. This is one small way to give that recognition.”