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Fully In Tact: Union should've settled for 'pretty big'

Illustration by Holly Randall
By Sabrina Noble
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, April 16, 2004
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Last semester, I strove to teach my beloved readers some student union etiquette. Not only did I notice that no one seems to listen to me ever, but I also realized a terrible oversight on my part: I forgot to mention that Rule No. 1 was to actually GO to the student union.

I assumed everyone knew that part. And you know what they say about assuming: It makes an ass of union administration. The union is foundering.

But how could this happen? Has no one noticed how aesthetically pleasing and expensive the union is? Doesn't its sheer girth and monumental splendor make anyone hungry enough to spend around $6 per greasy meal?

Let's take a look at the statistics going into this last fall, shall we?

In the glorified days of its birth, the student union's tagline was "The biggest student union in the nation without a hotel attached," which, in retrospect, should have been our first warning that something was amiss; that's perhaps one of the least catchy slogans ever put forth, with the exception of "Better than McDonald's, because we have Panda Express, too."

Poor marketing aside, the expansion and renovation project cost $60 million. A newsletter to student union employees stated they were opening "with excitement and expectations that we were entering the best fiscal year in student union history."

Sabrina Noble

Yes, the union, with its strip-mall physique and 13 restaurants, awed even the students who were the most bitter over the construction and its hefty price tag. "Maybe," they thought, "this will be worth it after all."

But they should have stuck with their first instincts; the union has proven no more unsinkable than the ill-fated naval ship to which it is so half-heartedly dedicated. Expected to grow by $5 million this year, it instead missed the projected budget by $3 million.

Accordingly, union administrators are jumping ship faster than rats on the Titanic. They are firing several full-time workers (some of them students who depend on their jobs to pay their way through college), shortening hours of operation, re-evaluating various services and increasing prices by 5 percent.

In other words, the administration reasons that students are sure to revitalize the unions if given a narrower window of time, a smaller selection and a higher bill.

I'm no accountant, but these figures don't add up to much money or sense.

Oh student union, it would seem the USS Arizona bell tolls for thee. ...

But why, I ask, was such a gigantic building constructed in the first place? Was there a national award for largest student union (without a hotel attached) for which the UA had been vying for decades?

David Galbraith, the associate director of Arizona Student Unions, explains: "Right now, it may be a little too big. But over the next 50 years of its life, it will grow with the campus. In just three to five years, everything will have filled up, filled in, if nothing else, just due to inflation."

Perhaps, but why couldn't the union have literally grown with the campus, expanding in more affordable stages over those 50 years? Why couldn't we have added space as needed, rather than providing meeting rooms that often spend their days empty? The old union was certainly too small to suit the campus' needs, but wasn't there a size between S and XXXL? Like "Pretty Big" or "Notably Large?" Union administration decided not, and now we are facing the possible closure of our new $60 million union for the entire summer.

Because the union's eyes were too big for its stomach, it forgot that the majority of the student population has always lived and dined off campus. Spiraling staircases aren't going to increase the number of hungry CatCard-

carrying customers (sorry, debit cards not accepted), especially when it's getting cheaper to purchase our meals elsewhere.

Yet in the aftermath of this economic iceberg everyone should have seen coming, union administration only seems to be shrugging its shoulders. "We just got too big too fast," said Coleen Cummings, senior supervisor of Dining Services.

Apparently, both hindsight and common sense are 20/20.

If there's one thing I'm sure they've learned from all this, it's that they should have attached a hotel öö and I can only assume that's why the administration is already thinking of how it can best save the money (it doesn't have) for union renovations and expansions 50 years from now.

Then we could have a sharper tagline and the biggest union without exception, even if it's vacant.

Sabrina Noble is a senior majoring in English and creative writing. She can be reached at

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