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Friday, September 26, 2014

Petty Coates

Call it like it is: Dean has OCD!
 After 25 years of marriage my wife and I took a vacation together for a week in September. It was our first substantial trip away from kids and work -- and without visiting people -- since our honeymoon. While we both generally unplugged, I couldn't help but check the on-line Trinitonian and was aghast to see the lead article was about the posters no longer being displayed in the Coates atrium.It seems, well... petty. Understand, I am a huge supporter of our student press and the quality product they consistently create.

The article makes me look like a micro-manager who makes unilateral decisions based on personal preference. Despite that being true in this case, I rarely work that way. It also could lead people to think I was dodging the Trinitonian and letting my staff answer for me. In fact, I was at the beach.

In some ways, I don't mind this. Dealing with alcohol, suicide attempts, and sexual assault, I welcome something as petty as this as a distraction. I am befuddled that this was the lead story. I am perplexed that with the increased vibrancy in the building that this is what got the attention. (The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive!) Finally, I want to make it clear that Jamie Thompson and Becka Bovio disagreed with me on this decision but were good soldiers in how they portrayed the issue to the public through this article. A faculty member wrote a letter to the editor this week decrying the decision. So, I feel like I should clarify some things about this.

1. There have only been banners hanging in the Coates windows for the last five years or so. This was done to make the building seem more student-friendly. It needed it, because the building hadn't been refurbished in 25 years. It was stale and drab. It featured mailboxes in its prime location. So the banners and Nacho Hour made sense to bring it to life. Somehow for 60 some years the University functioned without banners there and it will be fine again.

2. The best way to make the University Center student-friendly was to change it to be a destination for students. That has been the result of the changes, all of which were reviewed multiple times, and given the nod by the Student Government Association. This banner decision is not a snub to students, as claimed. Indeed, I have proposed renaming the building the Coates Student Center to give it a sense of belonging to the students. The building is newly vibrant and alive, and THAT sends the most important message. Note too that we have Lazy Boy recliners and special "switch" sofas upstairs that are solely for student comfort and rest. There are multiple configurations for leisure, study, privacy, and socializing (with a few more pieces due mid-October).

Circa 1987 - A historical reference.
3. One of the most impressive features of the building has been the bank of Southern-facing windows. Cutting that in half with ratty, outdated banners interfered with that. I never liked them, to be honest. Now, as it had been for eons, students can feel like they are outside while actually being in the comfort of a really nice setting.

4. The building is showing well, as they say. I have been to many student centers and many are newer and nicer than ours. But we didn't need a full, expensive renovation, we needed some upgrades. The new furniture is in school colors and the spirit logo is featured in four places, including on the media-scape. A lot of resources and thought were put into this. The banners looked cruddy. It would be like losing weight, getting a tan, buying new clothes, and NOT washing your hair.

5. Despite what people may claim, advertising events and getting people to pay attention is really a challenge and the banners were simply part of the noise. There are banners in Mabee, daily announcements in LeeRoy, the online calendar, class newsletters, the Trinitonian, table tents, and the now outdated Facebook groups. We could offer personal invitations and that still won't get people's attention. Let's not over-state the importance of these banners.

My faculty colleague posits that this is about education versus appearance and education lost. I disagree. It is much less sinister than that. It is about a Dean who made a decision to have a place that is student friendly, warm, accessible, and yes, neat and nice. Our students deserve it. Maybe I am just being petty. But I don't think I'm the only one.