Monday, August 08, 2005

Office Space

A rural correspondent, himself a department chair, wrote to complain about faculty who retire, but refuse to move out of their offices. It's creating a real problem for the new faculty who are trying to move in.

That hasn’t been much of a problem here, since retirements have been few and replacements fewer, but I’ve seen it elsewhere. (At my previous school, as the tech boom approached its peak and the school’s rate of growth went from heady to insane, office space shortages very nearly sparked a unionization drive among the faculty. Since then, massive layoffs have, at least, solved the space shortage quite effectively. For the few employees who remain, there may not be job security, but there’s elbow room a-plenty.) Once faculty set up base camp, they won’t be dislodged by anything less than natural disaster (or layoffs).

I don’t know of any other profession in which this would even be tolerated. Can you imagine trying to pull that kind of territorial crap at a bank? A hospital? A marketing agency? Puh-leeze.

The psychology behind it is the interesting part. If a professor has thrown in the towel, why won’t he leave the ring? What’s left to do?

I can understand the desire to have a refuge from the house, but I don’t know why that should be at the college’s expense. Use Starbucks, like the rest of us. And most retired faculty that I know of retain college library privileges.

Granted, faculty offices often accumulate tremendous amounts of paper (occupational hazard), and I agree that the ‘get-out-in-twenty-minutes’ corporate approach would be excessive. But it seems to me that there’s no office so ridiculous that, with a little help, it couldn’t be cleared out in a week or two.

On a space-crunched campus, this can be a real issue. New faculty want to move in with enough lead time to do their jobs, and rightly so. From an institutional perspective, this makes sense; office space is provided specifically and solely to help faculty who work there do the job of the institution. That’s not to say that people won’t do other things, too, but those other things are ancillary. The point is to further the mission of the institution. A retired professor jealously guarding his former office (shrine? crypt? memorial?) does nothing to further the mission of the institution.

I say, pay a few strong-backed grad students 20 bucks an hour and move the stuff out. And deduct the grad students’ pay from the retiree’s check.

Failing that, charge rent.

Fair is fair.