Sunday, September 28, 2008
By any other name...
The question is not what would Amherst be like without Umass but what would Umass be like without Amherst? There’s a move afoot to drop the 01002 location from the Flagship University because it makes Umass sound to provincial.
The Boston Globe reports
Even though Umass is currently the second largest landowner in town (all of it tax exempt).
Growing up on the wrong side of the tracks in bucolic Amherst over a generation ago I remember my mother—a staunch Irish Catholic –becoming horrified at a family gathering when a relative asked my slightly older sibling, what he wanted to be when he grew up.
“A Redman!” he almost shouted. My mother assumed he was talking about those marauding Indians from a John Wayne movie. But he was referring to Umass basketball; a moniker changed in 1972 to “The Minutemen” which is of course is fine by me.
I also remember hiking from High Street on cold winter Friday nights to sneak into The Cage to watch “The Redmen” at work. The advantage of being a pint-sized 8-year-old is you can insinuate yourself fairly easily into a general admission crowd and sneak by ticket takers.
So I have always lived in the shadow of Umass, even back when it did not cast such an overpowering shadow. I remember when the Southwest was simply a rolling open field where we neighborhood kids would play “capture the flag”.
All relative, I suppose; because back in the 60’s when only a few thousand students attended Umass Amherst townie population was a lot smaller as well. And as the University grew, so did the population of Amherst.
All us blue-collar townie kids wanted to get a job at Umass, many of them—fast approaching retirement age—still work there. I remember the water crisis from 25 years ago, although a tad differently than reported in the press recently. A town employee forgot to prime one of the main pumping stations so when the kids returned there was no water.
And the huge library that was to be a symbol (like the World Trade Center Twin Towers) of a proud flagship. Then the bricks started falling. The Collegian on April Fools Day issued a spoof article saying engineers forgot to calculate the weight of books and now the Library was sinking. The AP picked up the story, and to this day it is an Urban Myth.
Because of the University one cannot help but get involved in current political issues. In the late 60’s and early 70’s it was of course Viet Nam—the Mother of All issues. In the 80’s streaking and disco (politics took a back seat) in the 90’s nothing, and now--sort of--the Iraq War.
Amherst benefits greatly by the presence of the flagship, but suffers financial hardship as well. The University has a police department (with more staff and better funded than the town’s) but no Fire Department thus relying completely on the town’s annual $5 million operation. And of course our Police Department also spends about 25% of its time dealing with students.
About ten years ago Umass removed Amherst from their logo, now they want to go one step further and pretend the town doesn’t exist. Okay, next time somebody on campus calls 911 and requests help the dispatcher should say very slowly “Well what Umass is this: Boston, Dartmouth, Lowell, Worcester, or that provincial one out there in the sticks of Amherst?”
Would Umass still smell as sweet without Amherst? Hell no, that stinks!