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Monday January 30th

Removal of 'Fetzer Grays' signals larger issues with faculty benefits

<p>The decades-long tradition of faculty gym uniforms, including laundry services and clothing storage, is coming to an end this May.</p>
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The decades-long tradition of faculty gym uniforms, including laundry services and clothing storage, is coming to an end this May.

While it's simply the end of the semester for students, for some faculty, it’s the end of an era. On May 11, all clothing and basket service will cease at Fetzer Hall, bringing an end to the decades-long “Fetzer Grays” tradition. 

Under the current system, faculty can store their gym clothes in baskets provided by Fetzer. The gym provides faculty with exercise clothing and even washes it for them. While this is not a benefit offered to students, faculty pay $150 in annual fees, whereas students only pay $120. 

Although some faculty learned about the decision through an email sent to a select group of long-time facility users, others learned about the system changes by word of mouth and signs posted at Fetzer. Faculty disapproval is widespread and has remained steadfast since the decision’s release. 

In a statement to the DTH, Department Chair of Exercise and Sports Science Darin Padua said, “We regret that the decision to discontinue the clothing service after May 11, 2018 will create any type of hardship for the users of the recreation and activity facilities.”

Professor Donald Stanford has been integral in the movement to call attention and accountability to the decision itself as well as the decision-making process. He was a member of the Heels for Health Listserv and spread the news through personal interactions at the gym and through email. 

“I started asking people as I bumped into them wearing the grays and what surprised me right away was that virtually no one had heard about them,” Stanford said. 

Professor of city and regional planning Bill Rohe only heard about the changes from colleagues he sees at the gym. 

“I never got any direct email from the exercise and sports science people, so I guess I wasn’t on the list,” Rohe said. 

Stanford encouraged the colleagues who dissented with him to contact the administration at EXSS. He said he was often copied on emails sent to department chair Darin Padua. Common themes in these emails were concern about transparency and reasoning. 

In the email, the department claimed there was a lack of utilization, the service was too expensive and most colleges across the country only have a towel service — which will remain. 

Professor of African, African-American and Diaspora studies  Kenneth Janken was unconvinced by this reasoning, and he expressed his disdain in an email to Padua. 

“The list stated that most gym members use neither basket storage nor clothing service, and therefore both can be eliminated because the cost of continuing both cannot justify its continuation,” Janken said. “However, if only a few people use the clothes, how much more can it cost to throw a few grays in with the towels to wash them?”

As a professor from the Kenan-Flagler Business School, Stanford finds weakness in the fiscal reasoning presented. 

“It’s not like this is a free fringe benefit,” Stanford said. “We’re paying $150 a year for this. In my locker room alone, there are more than 300 lockers. That means there’s more than $45,000 in revenue coming out of that room alone every single year, so I think there’s enough dough.”

For professors such as physics'  Sean Washburn, this is another issue that subtracts from faculty benefits.

"I gave up higher pay, far superior health insurance and a much more generous pension plan when I left IBM to come here to teach,” he said. 

There is a broader concern coming from Stanford and his colleagues that the University is not supporting healthy lifestyles to the extent necessary to combat America’s increasing obesity problem. The basket and clothing service provides faculty with an easier route to exercise frequently and to take advantage of an unforeseen free hour at work. 

“It seems to me to counter what everybody else on campus is doing in terms of getting the faculty and staff more active so they can be healthier,” Rohe said. “It’s ironic to me that the recreation department is the one that is making it more difficult for the faculty to be able to exercise on campus.”

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