November 13, 2009

Just beet it

The University’s daily workings should be better publicized.

Last week, I was lazing back in a comfy armchair, vaguely listening to the debates of my housemates rage around me as they attempted to decide whether or not Snell would be using house funds in order to buy new pool cues, when someone cleared his throat and mentioned that he’d heard the University would be using beet juice instead of rock salt to accelerate the melting of snow on campus this coming winter. All other conversation immediately died, and an awkward silence ensued for about three seconds before one girl repeated, in an unsure voice, “Beet juice?”

“I wasn’t given any more information,” the student said, and sat back in his chair. I thought of all of my new pairs of winter boots turning a distasteful brownish maroon rather than remaining beige and actually matching my clothing (I’m not quite a fan of our school color, you see), and just about dashed back to my room once the meeting had ended in order to ensure that this was just another rumor. I clicked around, searching through old University e-mails, seeing if I’d missed anything important, looking for key phrases like “permanent stains” or “beet juice turning your jeans brown” in my Gmail search box, but found nothing. Absolutely nothing.

This lack of information typifies the atmosphere of this campus. While I was eventually able to discover that the Sustainability Office’s Web site had a PDF file which, at the bottom of the second page, apparently mentions this “beet juice” plan, it took me hours of searching and asking around. Furthermore, the Sustainability Web site never addressed any of my pressing concerns—whether the beet juice would turn everything I owned maroon, for example. I had to do a bit of research about that on my own, and I discovered that while the beet juice might not stain, some types of “beet salts” smell slightly like brewer’s yeast. Fantastic. I get to live right on the quads, window open (because, of course, rooms in Snell are always overheated), smelling brewer’s yeast all winter, and possibly into spring.

This change, much like the many others the University tends to make unilaterally, is going to be implemented without even a conciliatory e-mail to students who might be affected by the decision. I spend all of my time on campus—I live here, I eat here, I study here—and it’s absurd that the administration doesn’t seem to be concerned that some students would like notification of policies and changes on campus that might affect their daily lives. When similar choices are made by the town and county councils where I live, informational pamphlets are distributed. These papers have all the necessary information as well as a contact number in case of further questions—and yet I had to look all over the Web for this information and meet with a student on the Sustainability Council just to figure out if I should just send my new winter shoes home.

This school is plagued by a lack of transparency. Meetings are held behind closed doors, and students might sometimes receive e-mails regarding “the financial situation on campus,” but never hear anything else. I, for one, would appreciate the existence of a University-wide program in which one would choose to subscribe to specific types of e-mails—construction announcements, new transportation routes, or the safety alert e-mails—so that every student on campus can easily be as informed as he or she wishes about the daily workings of the institution we spend so much of our time working with, instead of hoping a MAROON columnist picks up on the issue and airs it.

An example? Sustainability meetings are apparently open to the general public. I would never have known this had I not recently spoken with one of the council members in order to better understand the new “beet salt” policy. Apparently, meetings are publicized only through select listhosts, so unless you know you’d be interested in these meetings, you’ll never find out about them.

And just to let you know—the beet salt? It might not stain your new boots, but it’s about three times more expensive than regular calcium chloride.

— Eliana Pfeffer is a second-year in the College.