The Bean this year may be a little less “grand.”
ACU Business Services has removed the full-size piano from the university cafeteria to make more room for the larger number of students expected to dine on campus. Anthony Williams, chief business services officer, said that with the largest freshman class in 25 years and a sophomore retention rate of 80%, the space in the west side of the Bean that once housed a grand piano was needed for more tables and chairs.
“It makes it more challenging to get every student a seat,” said Williams. To address the problem, Williams said the senior leadership team put into place an “Overcrowding Mitigation Plan.” The plan features several components, including adding a grab-and-go station and opening the patio for seating. Six new tables were added to the stage in the Bean.
One consequence of the change is no Piano Man, Williams said.
Mike Schuler, known around Abilene as the Piano Man, has been playing in the Bean off and on for 22 years. Schuler said he was paid by the university to play for an hour after Chapel several days a week, covering popular songs and even movie soundtracks.
“It’s good for morale,” Schuler said. “It’s an outlet and a solace for some students.”
Schuler lost his contract with the university two years ago as part of budget cutbacks, but it was reinstated after several students began a social media petition to bring him back. Now Shuler, who said he would like to keep playing in the Bean, hopes student reactions on social media will make a difference again. Some have responded to his Facebook and Twitter posts with the hashtag #savethepianoman. He suggested putting the piano in the middle of the room or getting a small piano that fits against a wall.
“I wouldn’t be fighting for this if I didn’t think the students wanted it,” said Schuler.
Several students said they will miss Schuler and his music.
“The piano man is an iconic part of the Bean experience,” said Emily Adams, sophomore speech pathology major from Frisco.
Williams said student concerns were considered before the decision was made, however, having students standing in the Bean without a seat would be “unacceptable.”
“Our charge at the end of the day is to do the best for our students,” he said. “It’s not personal, and we are not dissatisfied with the Piano Man.”