As a student who works on campus year-round, I and a small number of other students, staff and faculty share the privilege of seeing ASU turn into a ghost town for several weeks per year, in the winter and summer gaps between the fall and spring semesters.
Invariably, with the decreased number of students on campus, teams of workers move in to fill the void, and something new is either torn down or built up (or both), providing my coworkers and me with plenty of material for workday banter.
This winter, as you no doubt can guess, the topic provided to us was that of the new shade structures in front of the Tempe campus Memorial Union.
The day construction began, I went with one of my supervisors to grab some coffee and watch the shades go up. At that point, only a couple had been set up all the way, so most of the large, wavy tops were just lying on the pavement.
“They kind of look like skateboarding ramps,” I said.
He said, “I think they look like Pringles.”
Another coworker was reminded of gigantic, floating feminine-hygiene products. Whatever they resemble, we all agreed that we would prefer trees.
On some day after that, my superiors at the library emerged from a staff meeting with the information that 10 percent of them will lose their jobs this month. Suddenly, the Pringles went from a target of light comedy to an effigy representing unspecified financial missteps.
“I’m losing my job,” someone would tell me, “and they’re building that. How many times more than my salary did those things cost?”
The shock of the news about the impending firings wore off, but resentment about dollars being used on shade structures instead of salaries did not.
“They say that the money for the Pringles came from a different budget,” said a coworker whose department closed this week. “Well, who put the money in that budget to start with?”
I don’t think that anyone at the library thinks that the shades are the evil to blame for losing their jobs. Nor is their frustration just misdirected anger that should be pointed straight at President Michael Crow. But over the winter break, the Pringles came to represent a certain garishness of which everyone at ASU seems to be faintly aware, yet unable to speak about.
When you look around and see that 500 staff and 200 faculty associates have lost their positions at ASU, it almost makes it worse to see decorative structures being built, like crystal ornaments on the lower limbs of a dying evergreen.
I’m not demanding that the Pringles be torn down, or that you, as a responsible, socially conscious student refuse to sit or dine beneath them. But please, when you walk past the remade north side of the MU, be like my coworkers and remember that when money buys a thing, it cannot be used to pay a person, and that purchases can never make up for people.
Reach Kevin at email@example.com.