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In Defense of “Essential Personnel”

In response to last Tuesday’s “blizzard of 2015,” otherwise known as “a huge miscalculation,” Princeton University closed for all “non-essential personnel” while employees designated “essential” remained on duty. The concept of non-essential personnel seems to make sense, as there are certain jobs that must be fulfilled even during emergencies to keep the small city that is the University in operation. However, the “non-essential” terminology raises humbling questions. Who, exactly, is essential to Princeton’s continued existence? The four qualities that follow are essentially essential to being Princeton’s chosen “essential.”

1.Like the President’s “Book of Secrets,” Princeton must have a secret list.


If you have seen Nicholas Cage’sNational Treasure: Book of Secrets, then you’ll readily believe the prospect of a secret scrapbook kept by American presidents and stored in the Library of Congress. It must seem no less ridiculous to surmise that President Eisgruber ’83has a similar database of the most critical Princeton personnel. Obviously, it must be stored in the bowels of Firestone’s secret D Level.

We can only speculate on Princeton’s disaster contingency plan. Surely, Princeton alumnus Jeff Bezos ’86is on the list, and rock-star faculty Peter Singer and Paul Krugman (for now), but what of the general members of the Princeton family? What can guarantee you “essentiality” in the Princeton Book of Secrets?

2. You must be dedicated to the cause of essentiality.

In the zombie apocalypse filmWorld War Z, Brad Pitt’s family gets safe passage on an aircraft carrier as long as Brad Pitt does whatever it takes to find a way to stop the zombie virus. In the event of a similar apocalypse, Princeton probably has a say in who gets to stay on SS Orange Bubble. Of course, such a privilege demands some degree of service to the Princeton-nation and the service of all nations. And annual giving. Lots and lots of annual giving.

3. “Only Licensed Mini-Snow-Plow Drivers Need Apply”

You may be van-certified by the Department of Public Safety. Good for you — but are van drivers that essential? Will you really need to rent a car during the end times? Probably not. On the contrary, there’s a certification that might make you quite essential during a new Ice Age à la The Day After Tomorrow. This may seem obvious, but the miniature snow plows that magically clean up the snow (most of the time) are pretty essential. I wouldn’t be surprised if all tenured faculty have taken a 35-hour course on snow plow driving.


4. The Once and Ever WaWa Employees

Last November, fictional Dean of Sustenance Lawrence Hoagie might have declared all persons currently or formerly employed by the WaWa Corporation essential to the ongoing life of Princeton, regardless of the WaWa’s location on campus. There might even be a contingency plan to airlift coffee and sandwiches to the convenience store during Snowmageddon. It’s certainly possible. Or else, how can the WaWa remain our lone stable source of sustenance when the University has given up on feeding its students?

In Conclusion: Truth be told, I don’t fit any of these categories. I’m not in the President’s secret book, nor have I ever driven a snow plow. I guess I’m non-essential. Oh, it’s kind of icy outside? Chances are, Princeton will tell me I won’t need to go to class (during intercession).

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