Today I went out to the Great Desert University—which (let it be known!) is in reality Arizona State University, the center of the canker upon the Sonoran Desert known as the City of Tempe—to wrap up my 26-year existence in that place. I locked the laptop the College bought for me into a file drawer; cleaned all my data off my terminal and the shared server; erased everything still lurking in Outlook’s e-mail, calendar, and tasks; locked my keys and my underlings’ keys into a desk drawer; gathered the few things remaining that belong to me; checked to be sure the main entry to our suite was locked; and walked away, shutting the door behind me. From there I hiked to my car, drove to the HR building, parked illegally (risking a ticket: yes! ASU employees, would-be employees, and soon-to-be-former employees have to pay to visit the university’s HR department!), walked inside, and delivered my RASL application to a young woman who was too busy talking with a coworker about her five-year-old’s birthday to break off long enough to look me directly in the eye.
Then I left, never (I sincerely hope) to return.
Can you imagine? T-day—termination day—is the day after tomorrow (and it’s 6:00 p.m. as I write this, so in terms of business days it’s actually one freaking day from now), and not once has anyone asked me where the five sets of keys to our office are, where the Dell laptop and the raft of peripherals we bought for it are, what has become of the god-only-knows-how-many flash drives we’ve purchased. Nary a soul has suggested a walk-through to inspect the tens of thousands of dollars worth of capital investment still sitting there in our offices. Not one word.
Think of it. And oh, my friend, if you live in Arizona and you are a taxpayer, do think of it.
Bemused, I’ve been silently waiting to see if anyone would have anything to say about all the loot we’ve been sitting on. But nothing. I’ve announced to one and all that I’m using up my vacation time, so as far as they know I’m not around and never will be around again. The underlings went out before me, my RA on the 15th and my associate editor yesterday. To all intents and purposes, the crew has abandoned ship.
So today I’d thought I would carry the laptop and the keys over to the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, since IT informed me that the hardware was not their department (uh huh) and since I have no intention of hiking to the Kampus Kops, halfway to Timbuktu (no place to park there, either!) and jumping through a half-dozen hoops to turn in the keys. But after some reflection, I thought why ask for trouble? Why bring myself and their administrative lapse to their attention by dumping the stuff on the student worker who passes for a receptionist over there?
If, I reasoned, the deans think the five desktop computers, the three printers, the high-end scanner, the five phones, and the assorted chairs, desks, tables, reference works, paper, pens, Scotch tape and staples are safe behind a locked door, surely the laptop and the keys will be just as safe. Why not?
So, instead of four traipses around the campus, I journeyed to only two destinations: my office and HR.
The elevator in my building has an odd, unpleasant smell. Normally I walk up the steps, but the wheeled suitcase I brought to drag the computer in and my books out was too heavy to haul up or down the concrete staircase. As I rolled the thing into the lift on the way out, a marvelous thought struck me: I will never have to ride this stinking elevator into this condemned building again!
No joke. I’ve spent the past six years working in a condemned building. When it showed signs of crumbling, the city said it had to be torn down, and the university evacuated the top two floors. But after the dust settled, the administration—whose leadership wished to invest not in another classroom building for the social sciences and the liberal arts but in astronomical salaries and extravagant structures for “star” faculty who teach no one and maintain some part of their tenure at more respectable institutions—these worthies quietly declared it un-condemned. The top floor is still cordoned off, but the rest of it was deemed good enough for the peons. It is, in short, a depressing wreck.
Arizona State University Main is one of the most plug-ugly excuses for a university campus on the planet. I’ve seen one campus that is uglier, and it is in Philadelphia. On the whole, I’d rather not be in Philadelphia. No thought of cohesion or thematic harmony was ever given to the jumble that is ASU, not by a one of any of the multitudes of architects called upon to design structures there. The newer buildings are eyesores. The Fulton Center, which houses the eyrie of our beloved president, Michael Crow: ludicrous, with its absurd and pointless glass flange, which we can only take to be someone’s idea of decorative humor. Give the thing wide berth during a high wind—in a stiff breeze panes of glass blow out and crash to the sidewalk below. The Coor Building, with its hilarious reflected WORD, evidently intended to give some sort of character to yet another glass cube: hideous! Looks like the Borg. The only buildings that are not blatantly ugly only just rise to the level of bland.
It’s a dreary, industrial campus in the middle of a tacky, grubby burg. Except for the faux-warehouse urban renewal effort downtown, the City of Tempe consists mostly of tired 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s bedroom tracts and cheaply built, run-down rentals. A six-lane bridge spewing smog and dirt over a eutrophic artificial “lake” counts as a scenic attraction; a lovely new railroad track a cause for celebration.
This garden spot next to the building that houses HR is pretty typical:
A couple blocks up the road, we have this bit of urban renewal:
Nothing like some fine orange facing to spiff up a concrete rabbit warren, eh? Click on the image to appreciate the actual color: true Hallowe’en orange. Love the way the gray parking lot blends with the architecture.
In a moment of ambitious entrpreneurship, the university’s administration decided to spend several millions of dollars to build a cloister for the students in the honors college. The idea was that honors students would live, attend classes, eat, exercise, and socialize within the nine-acre compound, effectively creating a small, exclusive campus-within-a-campus for the elite amid the tumult of the Great Unwashed. How would you like your kid to spend four years in this concrete bunker?
Nice view out those windows of one of ASU’s finest parking garages:
And the spectacle continues as we drive north toward grody south Scottsdale, one awe-inspiring scenic view after another:
Millions upon millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars went into building this astonishing landscape. Like the balloonish tent up there (yeah, that’s what it is: a tent), it stayed puffed up with hot air until the recession came along. Then, as the tent blew down in the first strong wind, so the whole mess has folded in upon itself. Hugely overextended, the university’s financial structure has collapsed, leaving students to cope with vast undergraduate classes overseen by underpaid, demoralized faculty and throwing thousands of support staff out of work. The way it operates is just about as lovely as the way it looks.
Beautiful sight, isn’t it?