Smile Politely

Please don’t close the campus post offices

On the University of Illinois campus, the gorgeous, historic building Altgeld Hall (1897) — located right behind the iconic Alma Mater statue — contains more than one gem. In addition to the university’s only authentic bell tower, the one-time university library building contains campustown’s central post office, the University Station.

Campustown has only one other, less centrally-located, post office — located on Third and Green: Station A.

The Postal Service is threatening to close both of these stations.

Doing so would leave the entire university community without a way to send mail. The next closest option would be the Urbana Lincoln Square office, which is inconvenient at best. Due to the expense of parking, many students have no cars. Many university employees do not drive to work, and work the same hours the Urbana station is open, making it impossible to use on weekdays.

On October 11th, the idea of closing the campus post office was discussed with the public in a “town hall meeting.” This supposedly public session was not promoted and was held in a conference room tucked in a corner of the Illini Union with no sign to mark it. Before taking comments from the citizens who had managed to discover the meeting (every one of whom spoke out against closing the campus post offices, including a Champaign City Council Member, a former Urbana City Council Member, local business people, disabled citizens, a terminally ill man, and a veteran), this meeting began with a half-hour filibuster delivered by POOM (Post Office Operations Manager) Mike Pfundstein, a former postmaster at Urbana who has climbed his way up the ladder. In my opinion, this POOM attempted to smother the issue and bore the crowd out of the room by blathering about mules, the history of the Pony Express, and any issue at hand save the inconvenience he was proposing to perpetrate upon the university community. I found him smug and I resented his implication that every person in line at University Station was only there to spend $.44 on a single stamp. As a university employee who runs a small non-profit publishing house in his spare time, I stand in line at the campus post office to spend money and mail weight. I am not alone. A lot of books are shipped from that location, as well as students sending packages to their families. In 2010, the station generated $343,701 ($2,568 more than the previous year). Although this represents a decline from $356,952 in 2007, one could hardly accuse the station of hemorrhaging revenue.

The campus post office, in addition to providing an essential service to the university community — allowing students to send gifts, cards, and souvenirs to their families — does a ton of business. Don’t take my word for it — go try to stand in line there. I do so almost every day, and watch the same clerks patiently teach student after student how to mail things — how delivery confirmation works, the difference between priority and express mail, insurance, parcel post and media mail, and how to buy stamps.

I have to ask those POOMs responsible for the Champaign-Urbana post offices: do you want this line of hundreds of students a day to show up in your other branches, impatient and angry from having to take the bus downtown, trying to mail boxes of textbooks home to Asia or Schaumburg, all talking on their cellphones and having never bought their own stamp before? I don’t think your hard-working downtown employees want that, and you shouldn’t either.

As a further, and equally sincere, gesture of inviting public opinion, a document entitled “Invitation for Comments” was posted in the Altgeld Station (pdf). This document consists of four pages of small print riddled with gibberish, typos, inaccuracies, evasions, and a few moments of naked truth.

An example of typos and inaccuracies: “Retail service is also available at the Urbana Post Office an EAS-22 level office, located one miles away.” [sic] The breathtakingly inconvenient Tatman Court location (across High Cross Road from Walmart on the east edge of east Urbana) is closer to 4.6 miles away.

Here’s an example of the naked truth somehow rolled into this “Invitation for Comments” document:


[By closing the campus postal station] The Postal Service estimates a ten year savings of $0 with a breakdown as follows:

Building Maintenance   $0
Utilities                       $0
Transportation             $0
EAS Craft and Labor    $0
Contracts                   $0
Rent                          $0
Relocation One-Time Cost  $0

Total Ten Year Savings  $0

Did you get that? The Post Office admits that in this time of economic crisis, by closing University Station, they will save absolutely no money. Again, the station generates six figures of revenue per year. Why are they proposing to close it?

As a university employee and an American citizen, I am familiar with the aroma of bureaucratic bunglery. This stinks. Hey all you POOMs: Keep the campus post office stations open.

I invite readers to download the document “Proposal to Close the University Station, IL And Continue to Provide Service by Independent Post Office [sic] (Invitation for Comments)” (PDF). Count the typos and logical errors. It’s more fun than the New York Times crossword puzzle.

I also invite you to download and fill out “Optional Comment Form” (PDF) and let your opinion be known to the POOMs. Mail it, or send it by mule, to:

Michael Pfundstein
1720 Market St. Room 3000
Saint Louis, MO

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