Letter: There Are Better Ways To Honor UMass Front Line Service Workers Than A Remote Pavilion

UMass Dining. Photo: umass.edu

The following letter was sent to UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy on January 27, 2023. A similar letter was also sent to the Amherst Town Council.

The UMass ‘monument to service workers’ proposed for the meadow adjacent to the Renaissance Center is a good intention run amok.  

With regard to the proposed ‘Workers’ Pavilion’, some rhetorical questions:

Did anyone involved in planning this actually ask any service workers what they thought would be an appropriate use of a $7M bequest?  

Will any service worker getting off their shift go a mile out of their way to engage in ‘peaceful contemplation of nature’ at a pavilion that besmirches a large parcel of pastoral land?   

The idea of commemorating the service workers who have the thankless job of keeping UMass up and running through everything – covid, post-game riots, blizzards, and just the routine maintenance necessary to clean, house, feed and educate – is great.  (Respect, let alone gratitude, is scarce).  However, (and I am just guessing here), I doubt if the person donating $7M for this has ever been a service worker.  For the record, I have been, for both the U.S. National Park Service, and for UMass.  To a person, I’d guarantee my work mates in those jobs would have regarded this proposal as ridiculous, darkly humorous, insulting, or all three. Frankly, this project seems like an example of some elite planners who are woefully out-of-touch, pandering to proletariat workers. 

There are major issues with the project as described.  The proposed siting of project would irreparably destroy what is now a beautiful pastoral space currently enjoyed by the UMass community and Amherst residents alike.  The proposed structure has a decidedly unfinished appearance in the drawings unveiled so far, resembling an undergrad CAD design project, and certainly doesn’t look like it should cost $7M.  It is proposed as a place where individuals can go to ‘quietly contemplate’ nature and the contributions of UMass service personnel, but it is far out of the way of the mainstream campus life, has no associated parking proposed, and would sully a pristine meadow that is already a quiet place for repose and contemplation. 

If the anonymous donor wanted to honor service workers, and UMass was serious about accepting such a gesture (as opposed to effectively hiding it on the margins of the campus), there are many better ways and places.  How about a bronze statue of some workers with aprons, brooms, landscaping equipment, etc., erected somewhere close to the middle of campus, where students, faculty, administrators and guests are likely to see it?  Better still, how about establishing a scholarship fund so service workers or their kids can enroll in courses?  How about endowing an account for paying bonuses to service workers?  Why not subsidize affordable workforce housing?  There are so many more productive, creative, essential uses for a $7M gift….  

I sincerely hope you can convince the anonymous donor to reconsider their gift’s use.

John Varner

John Varner Lives In Amherst

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5 thoughts on “Letter: There Are Better Ways To Honor UMass Front Line Service Workers Than A Remote Pavilion

  1. I appreciate the Indy running this. However it is a version that edited out the final phrase that preceded my signature on my letter to the chancellor:
    “With all due respect, and appreciation for the enormous amount of good you have done for UMass,”

    While I have disagreements with UMass’s policies in several respects, it is undeniable that Chancellor Subaswamy has been a very dedicated, effective leader for the University. It has been his job to look out for the best interests of the University. These do not always coincide with the best interests of the town or it’s inhabitants. It is the province of Amherst town government to look out for the interests of Amherst’s citizens. It could do better.

  2. Thank you John for adding your voice and perspective to this. We are collecting signatures for another letter to the Chancellor from the community at large and the neighbors abutting the property requesting they reconsider both the use of funds and the placement of any memorial – and insisting it is not ever to be placed on the Dakin meadow property. If anyone is interested in receiving the link to the letter and would like to sign on please send me your email address to robin.jaffin@gmail.com

  3. Many thanks to John Varner for the letter and to Robin Jaffin’s reply with offer to sign on to another letter to the Chancellor.

    I too agree that the university must find a more appropriate way to use the $7M bequest to both appreciate and benefit UMass service workers, as well as preserve the Dakin Meadow which already serves as a beautiful pastoral space where anyone can go to enjoy its restorative environment unspoiled by intrusive structures.

  4. I fully agree with Mr. Varner. A statue is a lovely idea, but staff might be better served with a college scholarship fund, sliding-scale daycare, or other enhanced benefits. These benefits would help current workers and those in the future.

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