One might think that my job as a WCSU public relations guy would be simple: Spend the day talking to intelligent and witty media people, apply my considerable writing skills to press releases, and then gaze out the window as I await coverage for the university.
But there are other aspects to my employment at Western Connecticut State University.
I’m one of the people responsible for how Western presents itself to the community. We have done a lot of work to make ourselves presentable and looking like a place that students would be proud to attend. Case in point is the official entrance on White Street, a brick and wrought iron gateway to the Midtown campus. It was built to commemorate our 100th anniversary and includes the university’s name in gold. So when I spotted a banner strung across the top of the gates, soliciting students and community members for a summer trip to Spain, I voiced my objection to the president, who quickly assigned me the task of creating a policy.
Over the years, Western has developed several ways to communicate with students and others (you) about what’s happening on campus. Our habit is to plaster our buildings with posters and other signs publicizing every lecture, musical performance and theater cattle call.
The flyers are stapled to the walls above stairways and are left up for months, long after the advertised events are finished. Banners are bolted to brick facades and get the most attention when they come partly unattached and start flapping loudly in the wind. And we have custom-built A-frames that weigh roughly the same amount as the hindquarters of an elephant, which our maintenance crews periodically drag out to White Street and Osborne Street. We nail posters to each side of the A-frame and hope art lovers will notice as they drive by.
Three colleagues — one who directs campus maintenance; another who leads the design of our many publications, posters and the like; and the dean of students — agreed to meet with me one January afternoon to discuss our options.
We decided to limit the places that banners can be hung (never on the Midtown gates) and vowed that the ugly A-frames would be retired. The design guy found some weather-tight display cases in which we can place posters around campus along with eye-catching banner-holders for indoor displays. When we do put up outside banners, we agreed, they would be riveted to the walls so they can’t be undone by the wind.
During our discussion, which was relaxed yet thoughtful, someone mentioned that the theater people always put up signs on Osborne Street at the entrance to the Berkshire Theatre, where most of their productions are staged.
They like those damn A-frames, even though the ground is not level in front of the theater, and they insist on putting a banner on the outside of the building, which is obscured by trees. We unanimously agreed that we need a better solution. Lacking any ideas, we thanked each other and concluded the meeting.
Now the theater department is gearing up for its spring production. Students are rehearsing, publicity photos are being shot. Requests were submitted for posters to be mounted on the A-frames.
In a quick meeting, the designer and I agreed that it would be best if the theater department would just go away.
Then he reminded me that every theater in the world puts up signs in front of its building and whether the A-frames are a pain or not, we needed to do something.
So the A-frames have been ordered for Osborne Street and our committee will meet again to talk about another, permanent solution that we will try to put in place before the fall production.
Meanwhile, the banner advertising the trip to Spain is still hanging on the White Street gates. It will come down, soon, though, and no banner will ever go up there again. I’m fairly certain.
To follow Western Connecticut State University, go to www.wcsu.edu.