No Season for Students

muddy riverwalk 0319We had two customers of note in yesterday at Pat’s Screen Printing. We don’t know who one was, or even when he or she came through. We just know this person was there.

And we know this because it was March yesterday: first it rained, then it froze, then it snowed, then it fogged, then it melted, then the sun came out and the roof slid three times. Perfect conditions for generating mud.

I’m not sure where this customer had come from, or where he or she found so much gray mud, but they thoughtfully left a clear trail of market research for us. Based on this, we have something to inspect in every aspect of our retail floor area. Good to know, if not to clean up after.

Which, it didn’t clean up well. At least for me. Kara assured me Gilly would have done better. But Gilly wasn’t there, and we won’t know if she would have vacuumed better unless mud is still all over the carpet when she returns later this week.

She is helping her daughter relocate from far-away Denver to much-farther-away Boise, Idaho. I think her 20-something daughter is very excited about this new phase of her life, but it’s going to be tough on Gilly, who loves it when her daughter comes to visit.

And it’s going to be tough on those of us left behind. Gilly’s normal Monday shift hadn’t even started and Kara was missing her already. And when customers started coming in, we all missed her.

Gilly is our retail specialist, among other job titles. She has a real flair for the retail end, and she loves customers. Within minutes of their arrival, she has their entire story: where they’re from, why they’re here, what they’re planning to do next . . . it’s really an art form, and although we’ve watched her do this many, many times, none of us has developed anything approaching Gilly’s knack.

So it took two trips by a customer yesterday before the rest of us uncovered her story. A woman with two kids slightly younger than Gilly’s came in and selected a shirt or shirts (that’s how much attention I was paying) for custom work. That always requires a bit of time, so usually our customers find other errands or a meal to occupy their time until they come back to pick up their finished shirt(s).

When this woman came back, she had kind of an odd question for Kara, wanting to know if Kara was from Gunnison. If Gilly had been there, the woman might not have asked, because while Gilly’s put in 25 years in the valley, she still charmingly sounds straight off the boat from the United Kingdom.

Anyway, yes, Kara has been in Gunnison since childhood, so that should qualify. It turns out, our customer and her son were here to look at Western Not State Not College, and they’d been getting conflicting reports on what the weather is like here.

Kara was quick to compliment our summers, which are spectacular, but the customer was equally quick to note her son wouldn’t be here in the summer. (Or so she thinks: lots of students end up staying. This place has that kind of hold on people.)

After Kara had provided a fairly frank observation of winter (it does get cold, and while usually not as snowy as this year, generally comes with plenty of snow — which shouldn’t be a problem, since one of the son’s attractions to Western was the skiing), the woman and her kids departed.

On their way out, I couldn’t help but wonder out loud if the conflicting information they’re getting is coming from the school itself.

Back when it was Western State College, a student named Paul Rady received such a tremendous education (in geology, I believe) that he was able to go out into the world and amass a fortune. Not a small fortune, or even a large one: I think we can safely say that Mr. Rady made A LOT of money. And he seems to thank Western (we can still agree on that much of the name, for now) for this largesse.

He has expressed his gratitude in many ways over the years, and when we say “many ways” we “many forms of financial assistance,” which seems to be what colleges — I mean universities — cherish above all else.

His most recent expression came in the form of more than 80 million dollars. That’s an 8, followed by a 0, followed by million. In dollars. American currency. Or lifeblood, as universities like to think of it.

There’s no denying that this is an extremely generous donation. It will result in a new building as our small liberal arts campus veers from that mission into The Money Track of engineering. I don’t really understand how it will all work, but students will be here at Western but will actually be students of the University of Colorado (official motto: No Name Change Since 1876), taught, here in Gunnison, by live human beings not beamed in by satellite who are members of the CU faculty.

[Now, I can’t tell you why it’s “CU” when it’s the “University of Colorado.” That’s how the flagship campus in Boulder is referenced. Other campuses go the other way: UCD for the University of Colorado-Denver and UCCS for the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs and perhaps UCHS for Health Sciences, which is the giant medical conglomerate in Aurora.]

None of this would be possible without Mr. Rady, whom I don’t know at all (unless he was at the wild parties the Bartlesons used to host for geology students at the house next door while I was growing up). And it’s still very generous. (You can hear the “but,” can’t you?)

However, I’m not so sure that any donation should give the donor the right to tell the marketing department how to manage its business, but this appears to be what’s happening. The edict has come from on high, a high of $80 million: There are to be no pictures of students or campus with snow in them.

Really. That’s a thing. It’s not a rumor, it’s an edict that has been issued to faculty and staff all over campus. No snow ever. No caps in photos. (I don’t know if that’s all caps, or just winter caps.) And minorities at every photographic opportunity.

Which would be fine and well if it never snowed here. But it does, and it seems to be a big part of what draws a lot of students here. It’s also what drives some students away. As an adjunct, I once had a very sharp student who was quite an asset to campus, but she wasn’t going to stay. This California woman found it way too cold to tolerate, no matter what education she was getting.

I’m not sure it’s much of a service — probably a disservice — to assure students it doesn’t snow and they won’t need caps while they’re here. I don’t even understand the point. If you attract more students like the California woman, what do you gain? No matter how bright she was, she was Out of Here. It was just too cold. Can a college — I mean, university — be sued for false advertising?

I don’t know who was giving our customer conflicting information about the winters here, but I don’t see Western’s as a winning strategy. If this parent can figure it out on her first visit, don’t we suppose others might see through the charade as well? It might be hard to hold your uncapped head high when your shoes are dragging in the mud.

I should note that the first picture that comes up at western.edu is filled with snow. But I did see the “no snow” memo, so I know it happened.

 

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