Thursday, July 23, 2009

 

Trading Spaces

With enrollment through the roof, any fallow space on campus is at a premium. Suddenly, spaces that have been kept open 'just in case' of future expansion is on the table. And long-standing historical gentlemen's agreements about who controls what are abruptly up for grabs.

Through trial and error, I'm slowly discovering a method for handling these.

First, you place the official request with the officially appropriate person, who will say no. ("But we NEED that space for this special program! How could you possibly think otherwise? Don't you care about excellence and truth and beauty and blah blah blah...")

Then you have an in-person meeting with the officially appropriate person and ask a series of pointed questions. Why couldn't this function occur in any other place? Does it occur twelve hours a day? What about the down times? These will be met with a combination of evasion and references to absent third parties who must be consulted.

This is where I've figured out the trick. Convene a meeting of the officially appropriate people, plus the available faculty, plus the front-line staff people (i.e. lab assistants). Hold the meeting in the disputed space itself. Get the muckety-mucks to shut up as much as possible, but keep them there. Pose the question of use directly to the front-line people, then let them problem-solve uninterrupted, in the actual space itself, for a half hour or so. When you speak at all, do so only to indicate openness to any good idea. Ask questions only to clarify.

Let the agreement evolve. Then when it seems solid, summarize it and make sure you got it right. If you did, then set about making it happen.

So much gets lost in translation as it moves up and down the reporting lines. The lab technicians know more about that space than a dean or vp ever will, since they spend so much more time there. And there's something emboldening about being listened to; once it becomes clear that the meeting is about problem-solving, rather than blaming, all things become possible.

Getting the muckety-mucks to take a back seat is the hardest part. If you can do that, the rest falls into place. Their presence indicates that the issue is Important, and their respectful silence indicates that solutions are both welcome and expected. Sometimes, silence is productive.

Have you found a generally successful method for space negotiations on your campus? I'm always looking to steal good tricks...

Comments:
Genius!

However, I am offended by the term "Muckety-Muck." I prefer, "Suit", "Egghead", or "Colossal Waste of Space". ;-)
 
In a previous job I was the "Campus Room Guy." My official title was Director of Something-Completely-Unrelated-to-Being-Room-Guy, but the vast majority of my time was spent dealing with room issues- everything from short-term scheduling for meetings to continuing education courses to regular semester course assignments.

The beauty of the situation was that I was professional lower-middle-management. I wasn't viewed as a "Suit" or "Muckety-Muck" because there were so many people above me I wasn't seen as "one of them." Even when it came to my boss and his bosses I had the final and ultimate say.

My predecessor gave me this valuble bit of advice: "Every room on this campus is YOUR room. You allow your rooms to be used at your discretion." When the semesterly complaint came, "There's someone in MY room," my response was, "Let's go see who it is and I'll determine if they received permission to be in MY room." Sometimes they had, sometimes they were squatters.

My rooms included everything from lecture halls to labs. They were my rooms; I could do with them as I pleased but I didn't do anything I didn't "have" to do to make it work.

When I had to, I put math classes in biology labs and business classes in criminal justice labs. I was accused of "killing a program" because two chalk-and-talk lecture sections (of eleven) were in a perfectly fine lecture room in the building next door. Miracle of miracles the program survived!

The point: If ONE person is responsible, strong, and earns respect by being as fair and accommodating as possible to all parties, room assignments can handled.

C1
 
Amazingingly, after many years of conspicuous space-hogging, deans at my college are being honest--as is, "My program X has shrunk over the past five years and we can consolidate the three rooms we schedule into two. Math department, here you go." A lot of this is driven by an emerging "culture of evidence": we all know that if what we say at the table sounds dubious, the numbers behind our claims will be examined. I'd rather lose a room and keep my credibility than get called out on trying to maintain the status quo. We've all been used to holding on for dear life so the transition hasn't always been easy, but it's starting to feel more comfortable as we see it working.
 
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