Meet the ‘Cow Guy’ fighting Grand Canyon University to keep his land

By Katya Schwenk | Phoenix New Times

On a recent afternoon in January, Gail Palmer watched his cows graze under a thicket of pecan trees. The 83-year-old man had been thinking about getting rid of them. “All they do is eat hay and cost me lots of money,” he said wearily.

Then he paused, and something of a smile came across his face. “But GCU don’t like them,” he said.

Grand Canyon University has a tense relationship with Palmer, his cows, and his four rental properties, which are located on two acres along Colter Street in the center of the for-profit Christian university’s west Phoenix campus. On hot days, the smell of manure wafts over GCU’s manicured lawns and stately lecture halls. Sometimes, students try to scale the fences to get a better look at the small herd.

Palmer’s property is at the center of an ongoing court battle. In April 2022, GCU sued Palmer in an attempt to wrest control of the property away from him and put it in the hands of the courts. The case has dragged on for close to a year.

But Palmer is clear: He’s not going anywhere.

Palmer is one of a dwindling number of GCU’s neighbors who have not sold their property to the school. Over the last decade, GCU has aggressively bought land around its campus, converting old apartment buildings into student housing and empty lots into athletic fields. The changes have been welcomed by some — but called displacement by others, as low-income communities and longtime residents are uprooted by GCU’s ambitions.


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February 2023