Public Comment

Amazon Colonizes the UCB Campus

Gar Smith
Friday October 30, 2015 - 02:40:00 PM

The corporate makeover of the University of California's Berkeley campus is about to gain another dab of pernicious commercial luster.

Over the years, a steadily growing list of multinationals has been staking claims to territory on the Berkeley campus. To date, these Big Money interlopers include: Zellerbach Hall, the Haas School of Business, the Bechtel Engineering Center, the $350 million Energy Biosciences Institute (bankrolled by British Petroleum), the Li Ka Shing Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences (the naming rights cost Mr. Li $40 million), and six different on-campus buildings and sites perpetuating the memory of media baron William Randolph Hearst.

It's all just part of a long tradition. 

LeConte Hall, for example, was named after a savvy businessman who became rich making munitions for the Confederate Army. (John LeConte went on to become UC Berkeley's first president). Peder Sather—who gave the campus an iconic gate and a tower—was a banker whose operations were absorbed by Bank of America. And then there's Barrows Hall. In March 2015, Berkeley's Black Student Union complained that the prominent building was named after a "slave-owning racist and colonizer." 

There is, arguably, one campus structure that commemorates a truly progressive, populist figure—the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union building. 

But now that the new MLKJSU is emerging from a costly, multi-year architectural redesign, reports have surfaced of another annoying corporate fly in the ornamentation. 

According to October 27 edition of The Daily Californian, Cal students are looking forward to the debut of "a new Amazon center, designed to provide a more convenient pickup location for Amazon orders." But that's not all: the new Amazon outlet also promises "an interactive device bar" and "a sitting lounge." 

And where is this corporate monolith ($88.99 billion in revenues for 2014) planning to set roots? Smack in the heart of the new MLK Jr. Student Union. 

Turning to campus-wide email to pump up expectations, Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Joseph Greenwell explained the UC administration was simply responding to student pleas for "faster, easier and safer ways to (receive) their Amazon purchases." 

Earlier this month, Amazon officials reportedly met with the Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC) Board of Directors to hammer out and nail down Amazon's turf inside the new building. The new Amazon outlet is expected to be up and running by January 2016. 

The Daily Cal reports that the new facility will "provide student resources, including lockers for package pickup [and] a small technology bar where students can interact with digital media." These interactions will be somewhat compromised, however. As the Daily Cal notes, "digital interactions" will be limited to those "using Amazon electronic products." 

And since there's nothing that enhances to modern academic experience more than online shopping, students should be delighted to learn the new Amazon commerce zone promises "free same-day pickup for orders placed by noon" for all "Amazon Student and Prime members"—all the better to "ensure minimal waiting time during busy ordering seasons." 

Amazon has announced that it will be giving back to the campus community. Two to three percent of all purchase costs will be donated to the Student Union. Not by Amazon, however, but by students who "opt into an online program hosted by Amazon." 

As Student Union undergrad representative Joe Wilson told the Daily Cal, Amazon's new campus carve-out will provide a space where students can relieve their academic stress—a space where having ready access to the world of Amazon is expected to "contribute to this positive environment." 

Or as ASUC representative Williams put it: "I think part of the vision of the ASUC Student Union is making undergraduate students feel more at home on campus. The Amazon relationship will just add to that experience." 

And now we know what the "B" in UCB stands for. "Bezos."