How early did students have to get in line to spend an evening with Bill Nye? Sometime before 3:15 p.m., according to the students who didn’t get to see the Science Guy in person.
The line to see Nye started to form around 8 in the morning Tuesday — 12 hours before he was set to take the stage.
Two hours before doors opened, the line stretched all the way past Student Health Services and nearly reached the sands of Castor Beach.
As somewhere between a thousand and two thousand students waited, many passed the time by playing cards. Some sat in foldable chairs or lay on beach towels. Several stood patiently while clutching Nye’s latest book to their chests.
University employees handed out water to those thirsty from the 85-degree heat.
From time to time, staff from the University Lecture Series (ULS) would make announcements. ULS staff informed those who hoped to get Nye’s signature that books were sold out, and those who were not expected to make the cut were assured a recording of the lecture would be available in about three weeks.
Finally, about an hour before doors were set to open, it was announced that a live streaming of the Nye’s lecture would be presented in the Marshall Student Center (MSC) Oval Theater.
Alex Beard, a junior majoring in microbiology, was one of the last few people to get a wristband guaranteeing entrance to the MSC Ballroom where the ULS lecture took place.
“I was pretty pissed,” he said.
A number was written on each wristband. Beard’s friend said she got the band with the highest number: 971.
For the next five hours, Beard and his group of friends sat next to the students still hoping there might be a chance to get in.
“It was awkward,” he said. “We were trying not to make eye contact.”
Eric Loechelt was one person in line away from receiving a band and said he was not happy.
When Loechelt talked to The Oracle, he had just received a ticket for the streaming. Even a front row in the Oval Theater, he said, wouldn’t be the same.
“I guess we get to see him on TV,” he said. “I could have done that at home.”
A group of friends said they were left wondering why the issue couldn’t have been avoided.
“We have 40,000 students,” Loechelt said. “But they only made room for a thousand students? Not even a thousand students.”
Mack Carter, another student who didn’t get a band, said the university should have done something as soon as the lecture’s popularity became apparent on social media. On ULS’s event page on Facebook, 2,472 people RSVPed.
Many students in line agreed the event should have been moved to the Sun Dome. There was also outcry on social media, including Reddit, Facebook and Twitter.
The Sun Dome can seat over 10,000. The Ballroom can seat 1,100. The Oval Theater can seat 700.
Cece Buckley, a student who also didn’t make it into the Ballroom, said she wondered why the university would give Jane Goodall, who spoke last semester, the Sun Dome and not the Science Guy.
“I like Jane Goodall,” she said. “But she’s no Bill f—ing Nye.”
In an email to The Oracle, Director of Communications and Marketing for Student Affairs Renee Hunt said the Center for Student Involvement did consider moving the lecture to the Sun Dome. However, it would have cost up to $25,000, which would have broken ULS’ budget.
This year, ULS received $257,792 from Student Government’s annual Activity and Service Fee. Nye’s lecture cost $52,000. Previous lectures this semester cost $50,000 for Soledad O’Brien, $7,850 for John Bul Dau. Goodall’s lecture last semester cost roughly $60,000, a third of which was provided by ULS funds and the rest paid for by the College of Arts and Sciences.
The Sun Dome costs are due to maintenance and staff, which is privately managed by Global Spectrum.
The Oval Theater was able to seat the 600 remaining students. By the end, most who left Nye’s lecture — whether streamed or in person — walked away smiling.