Correction: In an earlier version of this story, The Daily incorrectly reported Jeanette Smith-Laws sent a text message to Publications Board co-director Zachary Warma ’11 giving him permission to use the second floor space of the Nitery for Publications Board business. Smith-Laws sent an email to Warma on her iPhone.
The fate of the second floor of the Nitery remains unclear, according to ASSU leadership, despite the ASSU Publications Board’s claims that the space was slated to become a “Graphic Design and Writing Center” for student publications.
In anticipation of the new use for the space, the Board purchased more than $30,000 worth of furniture last spring.
According to Greg Boardman, vice provost of student affairs (VPSA), the ASSU and the VPSA office are currently forming a working group “to gather broader student input as we define the future use of the Nitery space.”
Last April, the Undergraduate Senate voted to approve a $70,000 funding bill requested by then-Publications Board co-directors Alice Nam ’11 and Zachary Warma ’11. The money was earmarked to furnish and equip a high-tech publications space on the second floor of the Nitery.
On May 5, the Publications Board spent more than $30,000 of that money to purchase furniture from Steelcase Inc. for the space.
On June 5, ASSU President Michael Cruz ’12 forwarded a message co-signed by Boardman and dean of student life Chris Griffith to the public Undergraduate Senate email list, in which Boardman and Griffith stated that the newly purchased furniture would have to be removed from the Nitery during the summer in order to make room for conferences that had rented the space out.
“The agreement between VSPA and ASSU leadership over the last several years has also remained in place; namely that the Nitery would be utilized as a conference space during summer,” the letter stated. “The removal of the current furnishings is in keeping with that agreement.”
In the letter, Boardman and Griffith outlined that a working group-of both students and a few staff members-would be created, so that a clear method of allocating space in the Old Union complex could be established moving forward.
Currently, the working group is still forming, but will likely include Griffith, Cruz, ASSU Vice President Stewart Macgregor-Dennis ’13 and Jeanette Smith-Laws, director of operations and student unions.
While individuals disagree about whether there was any agreement, or implicit promise, concerning the use of the space, Nam maintains that she and Warma received confirmation that their proposal could move forward, and the ASSU Senate provided the necessary funds.
It remains unclear what will happen to the new furniture, most of which is currently on the second floor of the Nitery, according to Kate Abbott ’12 and Sam Coggeshall ’12, who were confirmed as this year’s Publications Board co-directors.
The Pub Board proposal
When the Board of Trustees approved a $24 million renovation of Old Union in 2005, the plan included student publications occupying the upper two floors of the Nitery. However, only the Stanford Chaparral-the campus’s bi-quarterly humor magazine-was given a spot in the Nitery when the renovated space opened in 2007.
Students involved in publications have lacked a centralized hub on campus since the Storke Publishing Building-which used to house multiple student publications, including The Daily-was demolished in 2009. The Daily does not receive any funding from the Pub Board.
Nam and Alex Katz ’12, her original co-chair before Warma replaced him for spring quarter, drafted a plan that would make the common area of the second-floor Nitery a group collaboration area; the plan also intended two side-rooms to be computer clusters. The goal was to make a space where organizations could meet and get advice on how to improve their publications, as well as a space where students could pick up publications’ most recent issues.
The proposal timeline
After several months of communicating with various University officials, the Publications Board received Senate approval in April to purchase furniture, but the staying power of the proposal was unclear.
According to Nam, Warma received an email from Smith-Laws on May 12 that said, “Take the space and we’ll work out the rest.”
Nam said after getting verbal clarification from Smith-Laws as she was entering Old Union, she and Warma decided to interpret this as written approval.
Smith-Laws directed an interview request by The Daily to Cruz.
Cruz maintained, “No agreement, formal or informal, was ever formalized.”
He said he was not sure why the Senate approved the funds if the proposal was not finalized. Cruz was vice president of the ASSU at the time of the approval, but had worked with the Publications Board as a senator.
“We decided that because it was May, and we had started trying to get the approval process going back in October that we were just going to move stuff in since we had [Smith-Laws’] written approval,” Nam said.
They had the furniture delivered the following Friday.
It wasn’t until the last week of the spring quarter that Nam received the email Cruz had forwarded to the Senate list about the furniture being removed from the Nitery over the summer.
Nam acknowledged that negotiations with the University were not always smooth.
“They told us up front that people complain about the Wellness Room, people complain about the ethnic community centers,” she said. “I think they didn’t want to change anything [in the Union] because then new people might be complaining. New people might be appealing to them asking them why they didn’t get space.”
At a May 3 Undergraduate Senate meeting, Nanci Howe, associate dean of Student Activities and Leadership (SAL), presented some of her concerns about making the space a publications center.
“One challenge with the space is that the University has made a commitment to having spaces as open to all students as broadly as possible,” Howe said. “For me, I’m very supportive of student publications, but I’m much more interested in creating a space that can be used by all students, rather than one labeled for publications.”
Abbott and Coggeshall at the May 31 Senate meeting, said they were surprised when they found out over the summer that all of the new furnishings had been removed from the Nitery. Abbott is a senior staff writer at The Daily.
Abbott said that while the space is no longer officially slated for a publications center, the Board is going through normal student-group channels to try to reserve rooms in the second-floor Nitery for publication-related events. Both Abbott and Coggeshell said they hope to be involved in the University’s attempt to evaluate how best to use the space in Old Union.
“We still feel that’s a publication space,” Coggeshall said.
Nam was not as hopeful about her original vision for the space.
“They are pretty much going to ignore any [previous] proposals,” she said. “They are going to go back to the drawing board and rethink about what to do with it.”