A well-polished knob

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Knobs. We hold them in our hands every day but so rarely think about those rotating cylinders beyond immediate utility as we trek to and from class. Some folks crank their knobs clockwise, while others twirl knobs left-wise. But whichever way you fiddle with these fittings, the intent is to enter the space beyond the knob. Given the necessary and frequent nature of our interaction with such devices, why in the bonnie-blue-blazes are there mushroomed knobs on Lawrence’s campus? 

Not to brag, but I’m kind of a knob expert. During my six years in the Navy, I manhandled knobs of all shapes and sizes. From the long, bulbous knobs on watertight doors to the understandably diminutive, frigid knobs on cryogenic equipment, it’s safe to say I’ve manipulated every conceivable knob in this vast world. So please believe me when I say there must be a changing of the knobs at Lawrence. 

Don’t get me wrong, a mushroomed knob is nothing to be ashamed of if there exists a paucity of choice. But—thanks to the free market— there are better, more inclusive alternatives for your knob dollar, especially when considering the average student’s burdened or be-gloved hands.  

Take Main Hall, por ejemplo. Progressives like talking about “living constitutions,” well, Main Hall is “living history” in all its glory—an amalgamation of changing decades and needs. The office has lurched to the west, professors of varying…uniquenesses have padded its halls, and thrice-cursed projector systems have come and gone. What hasn’t changed is the building’s passive hostility toward ergonomics and the disabled.  

Excepting the doors on the third level, the rectangular portals leading from Main’s staircases are of the concave mushroom variety, utter rubbish for their intended purpose of opening the G-D door—Panic at the Disco-style.  

I submit for your review an instance I’ve observed firsthand:  

A bemittened first-year approaches the second-floor landing with hope for the coming term. She strives to turn the round doorknob, but it is without friction from the thousands of hands grasping it before. Alas, she cannot rotate it; thus, she cannot get to class. Adrenaline produced by terror surges; she puts her entire arm into the attempt and collapses in tears. This pitiable first-year—moments ago an optimistic, joyful tuition-payer—is reduced to a purgatorial state. She exists even now, a sobbing stairwell gremlin incapable of escaping due to those damnable doorknobs.  

While seemingly outlandish, you can trust this account; I am, after all, a conservative opinion writer—one tier below “a cartoon protagonist creeping near a pie cooling on a windowsill” in the New York Times’ “Trustworthiness Rankings”. 

There exists an answer to our plight of passage: horizontal knobs. These lateral inventions are eminently more user and disability-friendly, as they allow elbows, knees, and even a Shakiric hip movement to open them.  

Doing a quick survey of unit costs at Harney Hardware, a set of fire-rated industrial horizontal knobs, or “levers” as Harney markets them, goes for sixty dollars. Multiply that figure by twenty-four doors and we’re coming up on what a Lawrentian pays for a term’s meal plan. Surely the building fund can swing some better knobs than the knobs we’ve got.  

To be clear, I am not accusing anyone of intentionally nobbling knob progress. If I were to guess, these mushroomed knobs proliferate at Lawrence because they operate well enough to avoid creating enemies, at least until today. Furthermore, there are rational economic considerations for the current problematic lot. A knob is a sunk cost—secondhand knobs don’t sell, so twist’em till they break. Every day a knob is used, it increases its return as a door opening device. But enough is enough. We can do better, and the current mushroom knobs are well-used and tired.  

Consider those for whom awkward opening motions are impossible or require outsized effort: disabled individuals with limited motor function, the athlete with an arm cast, the professor teetering behind a mound of papers and coffee mugs, and that first-year still in the stairwell.  

Replacing the current crop of doorknobs with an ergonomic alternative is simple, inexpensive, and a win for everyone except the poor shmuck whose assignment is to replace them all. Heck, if the administration approves and purchases new horizontal knobs, I hereby offer to replace them myself.  

To a better future for all of our knobs!  

Agree? Disagree? Have a knob-related incident you’d like to share? Email abell@lawrence.edu.