Protect Griffy Alliance vs. Indiana University

Early last fall, Indiana University revealed its intention to lease 300
acres of university land to a hastily formed private corporation (formed
by IU alumni with close ties to the board of trustees) for the purpose
of building a private golf and country club. The golf course, to be built
next to the existing course, was to be designed by Jack Nicklaus’s golf
course design firm, the head of which has close ties to Indiana University’s
business school. Membership would have been restricted to 2,500, with a
several thousand dollar initiation fee and then several hundred dollars
a month membership; it would also have been the home course for the IU
golf teams, and was seen as a possible host to PGA tour events.

The proposal was a public relations disaster from the beginning. It turned
out there was a toxic waste dump on part of the proposed site, including
PCB’s, asbestos, and radioactive waste illegally dumped by the university—a
lawsuit has since been filed over that issue. The proposed course also
was sited in the watershed of Griffy Lake, a popular local recreation spot
that also serves as a potential backup water source for the city of Bloomington.
In addition, the entire area, including the proposed site and several hundred
other acres owned by IU, consists primarily of undeveloped forest and wetlands.
The area also serves as the site of a considerable amount of teaching and
research activity by faculty in the biological sciences.

A coalition of concerned faculty, students, and community members named
the PGA (Protect Griffy Alliance) was quickly formed, and thus began five
months of hell for the IU administration and trustees. We organized demonstrations
and street theater featuring members dressed as animal residents of the
woodlands (including a few endangered species) and a “golf team” who chased
them away. Hundreds of yard signs and buttons calling for the protection
of Lake Griffy and an end to the golf course proposal sprouted up all over
town. Flyers began appearing in town satirizing administration officials
involved in promoting the proposal as “Developers of the Month.” Another
flyer detailed the health effects of pesticides used on the existing course,
and was headlined with the admonition “Golfers, Don’t Lick Your Balls.”
PGA members organized a phone-in day to the offices of the trustees and
IU president that tied up their phone lines for an entire day. Trustees
began receiving phone calls at home at odd hours from community residents
opposed to the proposal. A faculty letter opposing the proposal (though
not worded as opposing a new golf course in the area at all) was signed
by over 500 faculty members, the most IU faculty to express their views
on a political issue publicly since the Vietnam War. Over 3,000 signatures
of students, faculty, and community members were gathered on a petition
opposing the proposal and calling for the protection of Lake Griffy; virtually
no one whose signature we solicited turned us down. Several hundred angry
opponents of the proposal showed up at a public meeting on the course hastily
arranged by the trustees for public relations purposes.

In the face of such massive opposition, the trustees postponed their vote
on the proposal for two months. They also engaged in a massive but ultimately
unsuccessful public relations campaign, making such preposterous claims
as “building this golf course will improve the environment.”

In addition to canvassing door to door to distribute yard signs and raise
money and awareness, we also organized a benefit concert/educational event
featuring local musicians and speakers. People could write letters or send
e-mail on site to the trustees expressing their opposition were provided.
This concert drew an overflow crowd of 700 people and raised $5,000; many
people who showed up late were turned away because the place was already
packed to capacity.  The day after the benefit concert, citing faculty
concerns about the appropriateness for the university’s educational mission
of the proposal (but neglecting to mention community and student opposition,
and dismissing environmental concerns), the trustees announced that they
were cancelling the proposal. Needless to say, we were elated and a bit
surprised by the trustees’ sudden cave-in, but it was a vivid demonstration
to the community of the power it can have if it is unified and well-organized.