Why Can’t We Buy a Fountain From Sam’s Club? | Just Explain It to Me!

Kathy Johnson Bowles
4 min readMar 13, 2022


Scene: Mathematics department faculty meeting at a public institution. Agenda item, “New Fountain,” listed under old business, is about to be discussed.*

Slope (Department Chair): ( Cordially) At the last faculty meeting, many of you brought up concerns about the plans for a new fountain to be installed in front of our building. I’ve taken your response to the fountain seriously and have invited the associate vice president of capital projects here to answer your questions. Welcome, Mr. Steel. Thank you for joining us.

Steel: ( Congenially) Good afternoon. Happy to be here and talk to you about-

Power (tenured faculty): ( Aggressively interrupting) Why are we installing a new fountain in front of the mathematics building? The current one looks perfectly fine.

Steel: Yes, well, it appears OK, but …

Power: So, are you telling me we’re replacing something that’s perfectly functional? Once again, this institution is wasting money that should be spent on instruction.

Steel: No. The fountain’s mechanical parts are no longer operational, the pipes are rusted through and the base has a significant crack. Parts are no longer available. Repairs aren’t feasible or cost-effective. The leaking water is killing the grass and plantings. It has also significantly increased the water usage for this building. We have a responsibility to keep everything in good working order. How our campus looks to prospective students and their families is vital to enrollment.

Power: ( Outraged) You people are so irresponsible. How much is this stupid fountain going to cost our department? Our funds should be used for the students!

Steel: The cost of the fountain is not charged to your department’s budget.

Power: You still didn’t answer me. Do I need to file a Freedom of Information Act request? How much will it cost?

Angle (tenured faculty): And who is going to pay for it? What are you trying to hide?

Slope: Colleagues, please, let him speak-one question at a time.

Steel: The approved budget is $30,000. I understand the funding is provided by the foundation. The alumni association created an endowed fund in honor of Dr. Rhomboid, former chair of this department. The fund was established many years ago to support the maintenance, repair and replacement of the fountain as necessary.

Angle: ( Under his breath) Dr. Rhomboid was a fraud and a jackass. They better create a fund for me when I retire. Ingrates.

Cone (untenured faculty): ( Quietly) That’s half my salary.

Ray (untenured faculty): ( Conciliatory) Can’t we buy a fountain at Sam’s Club? I just bought one there for my yard for $350 last week. They’re on sale.

Steel: Unfortunately, we cannot use a fountain made for residential purposes on campus. It is not made to last in a commercial setting due to the grade of materials and code requirements.

Power: Are you calling what we do at this university commercial? Let me tell you, I’ve taught here for 40 years, and I can say to you-

Steel: No, that’s not what I’m saying.

Ray: ( Trying to defuse situation) Well, what if someone in the art department designs it and creates it? That won’t cost the university anything.

Steel: The design and fabrication of a fountain of this size and commercial use is a specialized field requiring a certain level of expertise and experience. Just because someone has a Ph.D. and is called a doctor doesn’t mean you should let them operate on you.

Angle: That’s insulting. I’m lodging a formal complaint.

Ray: I’m friends with one of the sculptors in the art department, and she does excellent work. I love her abstract forms. Her work is environmentally conscious.

Power: I think we need to bring this to a vote. I make a motion that we disallow a new fountain to be installed.

Steel: The project has already been approved by the Board of Trustees, a bid has been accepted and construction begins in two weeks. The money allocated for the fountain cannot be used for any other purpose.

Slope: Now, everyone, just please calm down. I believe Mr. Steel has succinctly, logically and transparently answered our questions. However, I understand the faculty’s concerns and will be inviting the vice president of advancement and the chair of the alumni association to the next meeting to continue the conversation.

*The department and names of individuals are fictional. This is a hypothetical scenario based on actual conversations but used here to illustrate a point.

Originally published at https://www.insidehighered.com.



Kathy Johnson Bowles

CEO, board member, advancement & strategy expert, scholar, nationally recognized artist — 32 years experience in higher education and not-for-profit management.