When Brown students received an email this summer letting them know that Mail Services was undergoing a dramatic restructuring, many of us were nervous. In an effort to make the postal system at Brown more efficient, the University was eliminating students’ physical mailboxes and instead treating all mail like packages. To obtain their mail, students would go to a counter and receive it from a Mail Services staff member.
Many thought this change was a horrible idea. In the past, retrieving a package at Brown had often been a time-consuming process. The lines had been legendary, and the inefficiency of the system had been a common complaint amongst students. The change proposed doubling down on a system that was inherently inefficient — to many it seemed like a recipe for only more frustration and inefficiency.
Yet these doomsday fears have yet to come true. While the student body is still split on its satisfaction with Mail Services, few would say the system has taken a nosedive in quality and efficiency. Lines are still a problem, especially during peak hours, and Mail Services still takes a long time to process packages. But in an era when letters are becoming less popular and packages are increasingly being mailed across the country, eliminating our physical mailboxes and repurposing the space made sense.
A 2010 Boston Consulting Group evaluation of the U.S. Postal Service found that “the U.S. Postal Service will experience profound declines in its volumes of mail. … Massive structural changes are required to avoid this outcome.” Unsurprisingly, Mail Services is also experiencing these changes in the type of mail that is sent. As Site Manager Richard Morello told The Herald in September, the renovation aimed “to address the ever increasing volume of packages and service the students out of one location,” in addition to addressing the increasing size of the student body.
Furthermore, conditions for Mail Service employees were unsafe. Staff members who managed package pickup in the Graduate Center E basement during high-volume times of the year worked in unsuitable conditions. Electricity shortages occurred, and operations temporarily moved to Alumnae Hall to correct the problem while the plans for the renovation were confirmed. The expansion of the package pickup center in J. Walter Wilson has eliminated the need to use that unfit space — a change students should support. While Mail Services still hires workers on a temporary basis and outsources its services to Ricoh USA — a policy many in the Brown community protested in summer 2014 — losing physical mailboxes seems to be a small price to pay for improving worker conditions.
Despite the concerns many students had upon learning that the physical mailboxes would be eliminated so that the package pickup service could be expanded, it appears that the change has led to no great inconvenience on the aggregate. Though there are still many ways Mail Services could be improved, the efficiency of the system has not dramatically worsened. As fewer and fewer pieces of letter mail are sent and the number of packages grows, the elimination of our physical boxes ultimately made a lot of sense.
Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Manuel Contreras ’16 and Meghan Holloway ’16, and its members, Emma Axelrod ’18, Noah Fitzgerel ’17 and Aranshi Kumar ’17. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.