Battle of the Bilge 

Potty Politics at Boise State

In the year 1880, the prestigious imperial contract known as the Royal Warrant was awarded to British plumbing innovator and manufacturer Thomas Crapper. In the year 2005, officials at Boise State have decided to allow outside contractors into campus crappers.

Under the rubric of "Toilet Times," leaders of the Association of Boise State University Students (ASBSU) recently approached the Campus Recreation Center, Student Union Building (SUB) and the vice president of student services with the idea of placing advertising posters inside washrooms across the entire campus. Preliminary versions of the 8-inch by 11-inch acrylic sleeves have already been mounted inside the doors of stalls in the Rec Center, announcing "TOILET TALK COMING SOON!" in a 300-point, fecal-colored font named "Crud" by originating typographer Scott Yoshinaga.

According to minutes of meetings held by the SUB board of governors, the idea was first floated in January of this year. Then-ASBSU President David Morriss had already contracted with consultant William "Butch" Oxendine of the for-profit American Student Government Association to visit the Boise State campus. Oxendine, who conducts research in this constricted area, recalls that "the College of Florida has done it. LaSalle University, also Texas A&M, a number of schools. There are various things they've called these newsletters from the Stall Street Journal, to Toilet Times, to Toilet Talk, Toilet News and there was one school that had a P in its name and they called it the P-News, obviously playing off their name."

Morriss, apparently acting on his own initiative, purchased 400 sleeves, at a cost of $1,844.08, from Displays2Go of Bristol, Rhode Island. Morriss was later impeached and left office after soiling his reputation for ethical dealing in an unrelated matter.

Current ASBSU President Joe Holladay says that he faced the fait accompli of stacks of plastic sleeves, apparently enough for the over 400 campus washroom stalls. Holladay asserts that while he would have preferred a small pilot project to test the waters first, "Those sleeves are non-refundable. So I'm still kind of obliged to try to go forward on something." Holladay hopes to assure individual campus units, such as academic departments, that they will exercise full control over the placement of the sleeves. He also plans to form a committee to monitor content and assign priorities for the new advertising space, including who will cover the costs for design, installation, maintenance, graffiti protection and distribution.

While Holladay emphatically stated that he has no intentions at this point to allow for outside commercial use of the sleeves, he admitted that many ASBSU and Boise State club events do receive off-campus corporate sponsorship. Holladay did not rule out that this trend would continue to on future posters. Also, on-campus businesses such as the University Bookstore, Aramark Food Services and Taco Bell Arena are not precluded from jostling for attention in the johns.

Holladay's plans may have bottomed out for the time being. First, the current ASBSU president had publicly criticized his predecessor for poor paper work, leading to a deficit and funding squeeze; it turns out that the financial situation is working out better than anticipated.

The less than $2,000 spent on the sleeves represents a tiny drop in the large vessel of ASBSU's $451,985 2004 budget, leading one to believe that the organization could find easier ways to eliminate waste.

Secondly, Taylor Newbold, director of Boise State volunteer services, has complained that ASBSU packed the April 18 Student Union Board of Governors meeting at which the idea was formally proposed. In an opinion column in the April 21 issue of the student newspaper The Arbiter, Newbold ridiculed the idea that student participation in campus events will increase as a result of exposure to advertising in a place where, as others might observe, students partly expose themselves.

Vice President for Student Affairs Peg Blake recalls Morriss approaching her back in January. Blake says she remains "skeptical" about the practicalities of installing and maintaining the sleeves and asked Morriss to return with a written plan and schedule of advertisable ASBSU events; he did submit them but just a week before his impeachment.

Blake notes, "Where the sleeves are positioned [in the Rec Center] is dark, and if you're sitting, they're hard to read, especially as we get older. I don't wear my reading glasses in there usually." She even mentions the possibility that ASBSU could auction off the sleeves on eBay in order to get rid of them. And Blake admits that in terms of external commercial advertising now appearing in the stalls, "we don't have anything in writing about that." As to BSU's stated ambition of becoming "a metropolitan research institution of distinction," Blake avers that Toilet Talk "probably doesn't fit very well. Maybe we could put a picture of the bell tower or something on it to make it look more university-like."

Current faculty and student response ranges from the serious to the sarcastic. Professor of Communication Dawn Craner protests that "commercialization of toilet stalls invades our privacy in one of the most personal places possible. What is the message of advertising in the toilet? That there is no place on campus where a person has a right to a moment of private peaceful thinking." Anthropology professor Bob McCarl believes that "it is another example of the way in which monopoly capitalism commodifies every aspect of our lives. Students are no longer learners, they are simply consumers and the institutional philosophy is to squeeze every last cent out of them. It all lends new meaning to a university becoming a major metropolitan 'seat' of higher learning." One faculty member, preferring to remain anonymous, argues, "The old term for a university, 'alma mater,' means 'nourishing mother.' Here at Boise State we don't just sell our mother, we even deliver her and not just to the highest bidder." Another student points out, "They all talk about a 'captive audience' in the bathrooms, but a captive is someone who's lost their freedom to choose."

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