NO-PARKING ZONE: When a staff member at St. Louis University cites the campus as being the nicest retirement community he's seen, he's referring to some of the soft touches around the expanding campus that make it seem less like an institution for vigorous, youthful scholarship than a well-tended cemetery, marked by an increasing number of brick walls, imposing gates, statuary and, most remarkably, a variety of bodies of water.
For example, eyebrows were raised when two undersized swimming pools -- ringed during the summer months by palm trees -- took the place of the aging State Apartments last year. Now word has it that a refigured Mill Creek, with a surrounding three-hole golf course, will occupy the land given to the school by HUD, the tract that once held the Laclede Town housing project.
The merits of these unique expansions find differing views on campus, though none takes precedence over the issue of parking garages. Most agree that the school's better looking, more coherent, than it was a decade ago, with the extra land often put to good use. Everyone agrees that a sharp new increase in parking fees is possibly the most divisive issue to hit the campus in years, with three newer garages providing both needed parking spots and a heavy price tag.
In a memo to the school community, James R. Kimmey, executive vice president, sketches out new rates for parking on campus, with full-time faculty and staff seeing the largest jumps -- from around $200 a year to a sliding scale that varies from $360-$900 annually. Kimmey notes that nearly $50 million has gone to "address the parking needs of the University community," with "parking rates (that) have remained unchanged since 1995."
In the new plan, not surprisingly, many of the cheapest spots will be the farthest away -- at the Olive garage, for example, or other remote locales. Those with the most cash will do OK, with reserved spots a short distance from the main campus.
Not surprisingly, much of the SLU community is more than a tad upset.
"Outraged," says one staff member of the general reaction on campus. "I don't know that people see this tied to the other things going on at the campus, honestly. People are very frustrated. It was a very drastic increase. People would have been more receptive to a slight increase. These aren't in stride with the cost-of-living increases of the average salary at SLU.
"The best parking is that much more expensive. The people that (more expensive parking) wouldn't matter to make the most -- $900 for parking may not be much to someone who makes $70,000. For the average person in the support staff, or nontenured faculty, those that make an average of $20,000 a year, single moms, that's a sizable chunk."
The theme of input is one that's sounded by Joseph Hodes, president of the Student Government Association. "The university is a black box," he says. "Data goes in, decisions are made, decisions come out the other side. We have no understanding of how that black box works, other than what we're told in the vaguest, most insulting ways. That's what we're most up in arms about. All of us are the institution. We all profit from its successes. We all suffer by the failures."
Hodes says that a Student Senate meeting will take place tonight, March 24, with a variety of options on the table. He says a vote of no confidence could be taken in regard to the administration, though he hopes it doesn't come to that.
"We'll vote, presumably, on whether to accept or reject the increase," he says. "We'll take it up to and including a no-confidence vote. I don't want it to go that far. We don't want this to be war. Obviously SLU has made great strides, great improvements. But this is the real community they're affecting.
"It's entirely possible that everything the administration says is true. They say everything is for the good of the entire university. We wouldn't know, because they don't tell us. I think it's twofold: One, the decision itself is outrageous; two, it's the way in which the decision was reached. It's this little group of people making decisions, without the input of the broader college community. Every decision is derived by that manner. We've reached the breaking point. Faculty and staff are fit to be tied as well. It hits the entire community, except this small decision-making group."
Sounds as if the administration has plenty more to worry about than finding another basketball coach. The problem is parking, which starts with "P," which rhymes with "T," and that stands for "trouble."
"Faculty, staff and students are all very distressed, angry and disturbed at the unilateral imposition of these parking fees," says one faculty member. "What they do is call into question two issues. One is the safety of people in these distant parking lots. The other is shared governance. The nicest words I've seen on that are, 'no taxation without equal representation.'"
IT'S A PARTY: Sometimes you try to understate things, cut the rhetoric down a bit. That seldom works. Take a piece in the RFT a few weeks back. It was a small feature on WGNU (AM 920) drive-time hosts Ray Ytzaina and Virginia McCarthy. Some folks thought the piece too kind, arguing that the pair's rightist take on the world is hateful and ugly. Well, at times their worldview does seem to come from a place motivated by fear. But Virginia's so damned entertaining that it's hard to get too mad at her. Ray, on the other hand...
Because Ytzaina has determined to go on a little jihad against the RFT, we'll introduce some lines that could've been used in the piece but weren't: "irritable and lacking respect for opposite viewpoints," for one; "possessing the ill-tempered feistiness of the barroom choir," for another. We could've more strongly condemned Ytzaina for bellowing that those who disagree are Nazis, which he finds a clever, humorous use of irony. We could've stated that his vigorous research for each show comes squarely from the fringes of the Internet, the black-helicopter crowd his prime source for today's news. We could've said that the big-voiced Ytzaina comes across as a bullying buffoon, yammering McCarthy into a bit role after she's been a fixture there for two decades. But we didn't.
Chuck Norman needs to rouse himself to action: Call the divorce lawyers and separate this unholy union. Let Ytzaina chew time in his own Party Line slot, with his intolerant audience and faux-Jeffersonian wit.
Free Virginia McCarthy!
SMART ART: Since its close as an underutilized cyber-coffeehouse last year, the Soho Building, at the corner of Grand and Hartford, has stood as a sort of mystery on the block. Sure, the art-deco exterior remained a unique fixture in the city, but the vacancy sign created a bit of confusion. How could such a compact, beautiful space not be in use? Especially on a corner right in the heart of a busy business district?
This weekend that changes, with artist Matt Anderson taking up the first-floor storefront. According to a release generated by the Forum for Contemporary Art, Anderson "will be making art and inviting neighborhood residents, school groups and anyone working or shopping in the area to participate or observe in the making of art." The experiment begins on Saturday, March 27, from 5-8 p.m., with Anderson continuing the studio process during set times -- 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday-Saturday.
At times folks have criticized the area as becoming too bourgeois, attempting to cater to the candle-and-vase set while turning its nose up at the funky elements that have long been a staple of the neighborhood. Until the announcement of a consistent music venue hits the strip, the studio's opening serves as one of the better signs that the area's artistic bent is not only active but becoming better publicized. Good.
RFT ANAGRAMS: After several weeks of painstaking thought and labor, it was found that the "computer machine" allowed easy access to endless amounts of anagrams. These fancy typewriters will do anything nowadays! Check this site, "Main Sanitary Nag," if so inclined: anagram.avatartech. com/anagram.html. It will make the anagram bit in your weekly newspaper column go by in a flash. In effect, less thought, more fun.
The City Museum = Mushy Cute Time
Frank O. Pinion = Prank, If Onion
Avalon Cinema = An Income Lava
Vintage Vinyl = Vigilant Envy
World Wide Magazine = Lemonade Wig Wizard
Wayman Smith = Saw Main Myth (and/or) Many At Whims
Send quips and tips (but no more anagrams) to Thomas_Crone@rftstl.com.