Center of Their Discontent

Jason Davis | Staff Photographer

Tension is brewing in the Student Center under the leadership of Student Center Director Stacey Murren. Since moving from UC Irvine’s Parking and Transportation Services to the Student Center last year, Murren has moved forward with her vision to bring it into the 21st century.

This vision, it seems, is clashing with a handful of Student Center employees who see Murren’s policies as heavy handed, wasteful and illogical.

“When she came from [UCI Parking and Transportation Services], we said her ideas are BS, ‘we miss the old days,’” said a former Student Center employee, Student 1, who wished to remain anonymous. “During some times at work, it’ll be crazy changeovers, nonstop work. Working so hard in such a short amount of time, you feel the pain at the end of the night. The managers are the only ones who really know. Stacey is out of touch. There’s a lot that I don’t agree with at the Student Center.”

Student 1 was a Student Center operations crew employee from 2008 till earlier this year. Among his and other students’ complaints is the center’s apparent lack of safety equipment available to the operations crew employees when they bring out tables and chairs to prepare rooms for use.

Though setting up tables and chairs seems like a trivial task, the tables can weigh up to 60 pounds each and are shaped in such a way that when carried, the brunt of the weight falls on the student’s back, not the legs. Moreover, chairs are pulled off from stacks of 40 so that all their weight is born on the back of whoever is pulling off the chairs.

“I also work for the Walt Disney Company and did back and safety training,” Student 1 said. “It’s better training. At the Student Center, all they say is lift with your legs. With the stacks of 40 chairs, a lot of people have a hard time reaching the top. The risers are a big issue, when we lift up it’s like doing a power cling. You’re using your whole body. You actually have to sign a waiver before lifting one. There were times when I was training people when students would ask ‘do you have any gloves?’ The managers and Stacey would tell you to get safety equipment on your own. You think about a normal events company and you see that they have gloves and back braces.”

Up in her office in the Student Center, Stacey Murren does not think that she is so far out of touch.

“They’ve never complained to me,” Murren said. “They’re made aware that this is manual labor. It should be an individual choice of whether you want the job. I’m always checking in with students. My door is always open. Sometimes I’ll go down there and check on them. [The students] have never said anything.”

But students disagree. Another Student Center operations crew employee who wished to remain anonymous, Student 2, also voiced his dissatisfaction with Murren’s policies.

“That’s how it goes: she thinks of something stupid,” Student 2 said. “Everyone nods. Operations thinks ‘shit, that’s stupid’; maintenance thinks “that’s stupid and expensive.”

This seems to be at the core of most student employees’ complaints about Murren’s policies. They see her efforts to renovate the Student Center as a waste of money. According to Student 2, Murren, or some other higher-up at the office, directed employees to decorate the Student Center in a Christmas theme. Operations crew spent two days on the labor on the decor.

“It’s money wasted,” Student 2 said. “Some of the window decor was damaged on removal. Basically, admin thinks of something stupid. Maintenance does it. Admin realizes they didn’t think it through. Money is wasted. We make it disappear.”

However, amid the accusations of Murren’s mismanagement and using of student funds for “office toys” is the reality that before her tenure as Student Center Director, there was no transparency and little effort to think forward at all. Before Murren, the Student Center did not have a website. Financial reports detailing how the Center was spending student fees were not publicly available and basic services such as reserving a room required waiting in long lines. Now, Murren’s current philosophy is to bring the Student Center into the 21st century while keeping student concerns at the forefront.

“Currently 70 percent of fees are student referendum fees that go to paying off the existing debt on the buildings,” Murren said. “Believe it or not, but there’s still existing debt on the old building. [The remaining] 30 percent of revenue comes from outside. We’ve done a lot in the last 18 months at very low cost. I’ve been to a lot of Ivy League [schools] and they have a worldly class about them. Funds are sitting there and I follow the Student Board’s lead. I want to get the board to develop an arts program known across campus.”

Though Murren’s intentions are certainly in the right place, one cannot help but wonder if her movements come at the wrong time. In the face of last year’s 32 percent fee increase and last Thursday’s 8 percent increase, it is only natural for students to be frustrated when they see offices being repainted when they do not need to be, managers and directors getting iPads and other resources being wasted — all while they do not have basic safety equipment such as gloves and back braces.

“A lot of student groups take our work for granted, leave the rooms like shit,” Student 1 said. “I think they should know the kind of pain we go through.”