by Lois R. Santtomly
In a post-apocalyptic world where funding for university departments has dwindled to almost nothing, one university took inspiration from popular literature to determine funding for the upcoming school year.
Taking a page, literally, from Suzanne Collins’ hit series of young-adult novels and films “The Hunger Games,” Wrigley University in Southeast Utah has announced that it will parcel out funding for staff departments based on the outcome of their upcoming “Humiliation Games,” in which staff members will compete with one another in a series of dangerous challenges, with the winners receiving the much needed funding and, in some cases, keeping their jobs.
Collins’ novels are set in a futuristic world in which an authoritarian government controls the remnants of North America. Each year teenagers from each of the 12 geographic districts are selected by lottery to represent their district and fight to the death in the Hunger Games. The games are televised and the winner earns food and other resources for their poor communities.
Wrigley Acting Provost Kyle Everdson, who is also a creative writing professor at the school, said that he came up with the idea for the Humiliation Games last summer. He read the novel on the advice of his 12-year-old daughter when he attended a departmental end-of-the-school-year party. The party featured staff members who were directed to participate in contests including relay races, hula-hooping and a water-balloon toss in the guise of “fun.”
“While the book was rather pedestrian and the quality of the writing frequently made me wince, I must say that Ms. Collins had an outstanding idea – let’s reward the people who have the desire and mental toughness to put themselves out there,” said Everdson.
The first of the planned events is a campus-wide “Easter Egg Hunt,” in which the 1,750 full- and part-time employees will search for one of 1,250 eggs. About 1,400 of the eggs will contain a monetary amount that will go towards funding in their department, but to add drama another 50 will contain pink slips leading to immediate layoffs of the individuals who find them.
“It will be a true adventure. They will find the egg and, if it contains a monetary amount, can bring it to the Faculty Senate table for judging and recording in the ledger. If they don’t like the amount, or if they get a pink slip, they can then try to “trade” eggs with another competitor. It will be no-holds-barred and very exciting for the faculty to observe,” Everdson said. “Our Sociology department is almost Pavlovian in their anticipation and the chair thinks they can get two or three research papers out of it.”
Everdson described the process for the “non-successful” competitors in the contest. “If participants end up with pink slips, they will be branded with a hot iron on the palm of the left hand and will be escorted off campus by police,” he said. “That will give us a head start to knocking down the numbers of excess staff.”
Other planned events include endurance hula-hooping, in which individuals will be asked to perform the grade-school game for up to three hours, a department obstacle course relay race featuring hazards designed by bitter physics grad students, and an essay contest in which staff must write an exactly 1,700 word essay on the importance and significance of faculty members.
Everdson said the school hopes that there will be no injuries or casualties during the games, especially among the older and weaker employees, but added that “a few losses and injuries will be acceptable. It’s to be expected in an event like this.”
Chemistry department professor and long-time critic of campus administration and staff Walter Uyn was quoted in a faculty newsletter as planning to create booby traps in hopes of “thinning the herd.” When confronted with the quote, Uyn was non-committal.
“I can’t confirm or deny that,” said Uyn. “But there are too many staff on this campus. They don’t do anything other than consume the resources that should be directed toward the important work of faculty. Getting rid of a few of them permanently? I’d be OK with that.”
Everdson added that the program had the natural benefit of deflecting the responsibility for the cuts from himself and the administration.
“Nobody wants to be the hatchet man, the man who pulls the trigger and cuts positions,” said Everdson. “This way if somebody fails they have no one to blame but themselves. We’ll let natural selection take it’s course. In the end we’ll have a leaner, meaner, more physically fit and more committed staff work force who all know their place in the university hierarchy.”
The games will be televised on WU’s internal campus television network, and the school is in negotiations with MTV-U for the nationwide broadcast rights. Tickets for the event will also be sold, but only to faculty members.
“Faculty members will be the only ones allowed to watch, as all the staff members on campus will be participating in the games themselves,” Everdson said. “We anticipate raising several thousand dollars through ticket sales for the events themselves, as well as faculty-only receptions.”