The equipment office for the School of Communications and Theater is not the most popular place. Any media class can erupt in complaints about the office’s strict policies and steep fines. Perhaps it deserves some of the criticism it gets.
However, the equipment office has a side to the story, too, and one worth listening to. It starts with more than a hundred students picking up equipment in an afternoon and includes cameras worth close to $40,000.
The office, located on the first floor of Annenberg Hall, distributes video and audio recording equipment to film, BTMM and journalism majors.
When students enter the office, equipment isn’t the only thing they find. Hand-drawn cartoons hanging on the walls depict “John Q. Filmmajor” and “Slatey the Slate.” The two act out scenes from the office, such as students upset at the fines they receive for turning equipment in late, and not being able to reserve cameras over lunch.
These cartoons are snarky and perhaps biting to those who find themselves acting out the scenes, but they are actually popular.
“[Students] have been asking why there aren’t any new ones yet. They can see the comedic side to our side of the story,” said John Sedlak, the video systems coordinator. Sedlak manages the equipment office, and answers to the director of operations for SCT.
Slatey began when a new slate that had been ordered turned out to be only a few inches, much smaller than what was needed. It was given the nickname Slatey and became the unofficial mascot of the office. One of the eight student workers who staff the office began drawing cartoons involving Slatey, and the idea took off.
The equipment office has between 80 to 90 cameras, which with all the other microphones and lights is worth “in the millions” of dollars, Sedlak said.
“On the busiest day, we’ve had 129 undergrads in one afteronoon,” Sedlak said. “On average, we have roughly a thousand registered undergrads” per week.
When asked why he thinks there is such a disconnect between the office and the students, and why such animosity exists between the two, Sedlak said much it is the volume.
“A lot of it comes from the numbers and lack of resources. We don’t have the space to have more cameras. We have strict policies. They don’t usually like that,” Sedlak said.
The office does not have the luxury of simply expanding. Its funding comes from the tech fees the journalism, BTMM and film majors pay as part of their tuition. More cameras means higher fees, which few would be eager to turn to.
“I’ll be meeting with the heads of the departments” to see if there are any solutions, Sedlak said. When asked what those solutions might be, he said, “Ideally, a new office built on” but he wasn’t expecting it any time soon.
It’s understandable that there is a lot of frustration with its policies. Late fines turn into hundreds of dollars within days, and pickup and drop-off times are strict. However, with millions of dollars of equipment, and hundreds of students reserving equipment in a week, the office really doesn’t have much choice.
“It is a very stressful environment,” Sedlak said.
There are legitimate concerns about the equipment office, but the solutions mostly involve what students have so very little of: money. In the meantime, the office has to make do with what it has, and that leaves it little choice but to continue draconian policies.
Stephen Zook can be reached at email@example.com.