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The all new University Tunnels Top 10

Paul Greatrix has been going underground on campuses around the world to bring us an exciting new way to rank universities.
This article is more than 3 years old

Paul Greatrix is Registrar at The University of Nottingham, author and creator of Registrarism and a Contributing Editor of Wonkhe.

The University of Nottingham has a tunnel. It’s not a very long one and links the East end of the Trent Building to the West end of the Portland Building.

It was created, so legend has it, to enable a former Vice-Chancellor to travel between the buildings (presumably for lunch) without getting wet. Still, it is pretty exciting and there are many students (and staff) who still do not believe it exists and therefore fail to take advantage of it.

Anyway, there are it seems many other universities which also have tunnels, some of which are really very impressive indeed. It seems extraordinary therefore that we have never had a ranking of such institutions before. So, here it is then, the first ever league table of university tunnels. Note that wind tunnels have been excluded from consideration as, let’s face it, they are a bit dull.

Naturally, the criteria are somewhat obscure and opaque but we have ranked each tunnel based on scale, coolness, utility (beyond utilities) and associated myths and legends. As is customary with this kind of league table most of the top placings are taken by US universities who are naturally bigger and better at this kind thing.

Can you dig it? The all new Tunnels Top 10

10. University of Minnesota

In tenth place we have the University of Minnesota which would have placed higher if it didn’t keep going on about gophers:

The first tunnels at UM, which are sometimes called the “Gopher Way,” date back to the 1920’s. The university has 6 miles of tunnels and skyways, UM told HuffPost. A couple of students even created an online game based on the map of the system.
“The Gopher Way is certainly used more often during bad weather as a way for students to move across campus without being exposed to rain, snow or below-zero temperatures,” said Tim Busse, commucations director of university services at the University of Minnesota. “At the same time, on a cold winter day you’ll notice many students staying above ground taking on the weather and elements, which goes to show how tough Midwesterners are.”

9. Duke University

Duke University’s tunnel is nearly a century old and, opening in 1927, the tunnel has served as a main artery providing heat, water and electricity to campus buildings:

Amy McDonald, assistant university archivist at Duke University Archives, said the tunnel system illustrates the scale of construction on East Campus during the 1920s.
“It was a complete re-imagining of the campus, down to below the ground,” she said. “The tunnel is a reminder of the unseen labor that was and continues to be carried out on campus today.”

8. Rochester University

The tunnels at Rochester, in eighth place in the table, have a very practical value and allow students to move around the campus while being protected from bad weather. One of the tunnels is also home to a revolving public art space apparently.

7. Yale University

There are some real myths and legends about the tunnels at Yale, in seventh place in the ranking:

Despite the tunnels’ current mystique, their origins reveal a more practical purpose. The tunnels can be dated to the construction of the eight original colleges, Sterling Memorial Library and Payne Whitney Gym in the early 1930s. Designed to transport steam and electricity between the myriad buildings, they are largely filled with large steam pipes, high-pressure water pipes and data cables. According to Director of Utilities and Engineering Anthony Kosior, the steam tunnels provide a way for the University to streamline piping, services and equipment to campus buildings.
During the Cold War era, the tunnels and other Yale underground spaces, such as residential college basements, were designated as “fallout shelters.” Believed capable of withstanding the high-level radiation of a nuclear attack, the tunnels were stocked with supplies and incorporated into the University’s emergency plan.

6. Columbia University

Most of Columbia University’s tunnels are for heating and other services

But they do have an interesting history:

During the 1968 student strike, student staff at WKCR, Columbia’s radio station, used the tunnels to tap the university’s telephone system. Students also made use of the tunnels to travel between buildings occupied by strikers.
The names of students and alumni who have visited the tunnels appear scrawled throughout the tunnels. Ken Hechtman is one of the most infamous former Columbia tunnelers. In 1986, he led an underground group of tunneling students called AD HOC (Allied Destructive Hackers of Columbia). Hechtman was expelled during his first year at Columbia for stealing Uranium-238 from Pupin Hall, along with many dangerous chemicals from Havemeyer Hall.

5. Concordia University

At Concordia students value the tunnel connections between buildings, from residences to lecture halls, when the weather gets really cold:

While many Midwestern college students pile on layers to brave the frigid walk to classes in subzero weather, those attending one Wisconsin university on the windy shores of Lake Michigan can leave their coats in their dorms and take a much cozier trek.
Concordia University Wisconsin has nearly 4 miles of connecting tunnels and hallways that keep students out of the harsh winter elements. The elaborate underground system connects residence halls and academic buildings.

4. Carleton University

Carleton University has a very extensive tunnel system with many students finding them a warm place to work.

3. Brown University

Brown, in third place in our ranking, has tunnels with real history behind them – they were built in the 19th Century to transport goods and supplies around the campus. The network apparently ‘prevented distractions’ and allowed the carts to move freely in the winter.

One of the tunnel entrances was said to be the inspiration for the Bat Cave in the original 1960’s Batman television series.

2. University of Sydney

In the runner up spot we find one of few tunnellers from down under, the University of Sydney, which has a Graffiti Tunnel:

The Graffiti Tunnel is a legal graffiti wall running between the Holme Building and Manning House. It is the only site in the University where paint may be used. The university and campus security guards only request that the artwork is “clean” and that the door handles are left alone!

It’s quite small but perfectly formed.

1. Wright State University

And top of the heap is Wright State University which seems to have the biggest and best tunnel system of them all and where tunnels are a fundamental part of campus life:

The Wright State tunnel system

An underground system of tunnels connects virtually all buildings on the Wright State campus. Designed to make the campus more accessible to persons with disabilities, the tunnel system provides a convenience to all in bad weather. The tunnel system may be entered in any building by way of the stairwells or elevators. Finding one’s way in the tunnels is facilitated by overhead signs at all tunnel intersections and tunnel maps. Also located in various places in the tunnel system are vending machines. Jogging, biking, skateboarding, and rollerblading are forbidden in the tunnels

There are also these walking fitness trails.

Well done Wright State (which I still think is an amusing name, even if no-one else does).

And beyond these and the University of Nottingham tunnel, you might want to check out Montana University’s tunnels (which are mainly to do with heating it seems), Oakland University where their tunnels are the stuff of legend, and closer to home,
UCL , where you will be lucky to find them.

In addition, the University of Oregon has 4 miles of tunnels just for utilities and the University of Waterloo has some off limits tunnels too. Greenwich and Birmingham Universities are both rumoured to have old tunnels too but there does not seem to be an real evidence of this.

There you have it. Until the next top ranking university ranking emerges.

Many thanks to my TMP17 colleagues for the idea for this one (can’t recall if it was Julie, Dot or Karen who actually suggested it first but thank you all in any case).

11 responses to “The all new University Tunnels Top 10

  1. Excellent league table Paul, and the now merged LFHE should be proud of what its TMP graduates can create together…

    1. West Albany High, Memorial Middle School, Liberty Elementary and the former Albany College, now the Department of Energy, are all located within one large city block in Albany Oregon. All interconnected via underground tunnels constructed during Cold War Era. Just plain cement tunnels but interesting none the less.

  2. Surely the most famous tunnel system in HE would be the steam tunnels at Michigan State University. Gamers across the world still tell the story of James Dallas Egbert III’s disappearance.

  3. But what about the University of Birmingham’s mine, Paul? About a mile of purpose built coalmine winds its way beneath the campus. It was built in 1905 to give mining students experience of working underground and was a practical teaching aid. Long closed, the entrance is between the Aston Webb and the Bristol Road.

  4. Also worth mentioning are the tunnels of the disused Aldwych tube station, used as a shooting range by students of King’s College London’s rifle club.

  5. Birmingham also has an extensive system of tunnels to carry steam and other services. It had to undertake major and disruptive infrastructure work on its subways in the past decade to ensure they didn’t deteriorate beyond use.

  6. There are the long rumoured tunnels believed to lead to a nuclear bunker under the University of Kent, but not sure if anyone has ever found them, (or lived to tell the tale anyway !!)

  7. When I was at SUNY Albany we spent most of the Winter in tunnels underground. An amazing system for keeping out of sub zero winds!

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