Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Space Invaders

Like so many other public colleges, mine is reducing personnel to match reduced budgets. (To its credit, it isn't reducing faculty.) That means that I've been absorbed in some Very Unbloggable Conversations over the last couple of weeks.

It also means that I've seen the return of the space invaders.

Whenever an office or classroom becomes 'free,' potential claimants crawl out of the woodwork. Since spaces tend not to go unclaimed for very long, potential claimants have been known to start scoping out rooms while the current occupants are actually in them. Not only is the body still warm, it's still kicking. (Monty Python fans know the scene: "Bring out your dead!" "I'm not dead!" "You will be.") In one case -- admittedly, a nice office -- the traffic has reached the point that the occupants have actually had to make a formal request to the vultures to back off for a while. It's uncomfortably similar to the folks in New York City who read the obituaries to look for apartments.

There's a certain etiquette to this sort of thing.

I'm not advocating survival guilt; those of us still around will have plenty more work to do if we're feeling the need for penance. But a certain survival courtesy seems reasonable. It's bad enough to know you're on the way out; watching other people measure for drapes (or, more likely, bookcases) while you're still there just adds insult to injury.

Given how crowded the campus is now, space of any kind is at a premium. "Temporary" arrangements have become semi-permanent over the years, but the folks shoehorned into repurposed storage closets are acutely aware that it was never meant to stay that way. To someone stuck working in an unsuitable space, news of layoffs generates a dual response: "that's awful, but FRESH MEAT!"

I don't blame them, but it's possible to self-advocate and still maintain some dignity all around. So, my helpful hints for considerate vultures:

1. Schedule drape-measuring by contacting the supervisor of the people there. As with house-hunting, it's better to look when nobody's home.

2. There's such a thing as building plans. A little preliminary scoping can save you an unproductive and awkward expedition.

3. To the extent that you can, it's better to present solutions than demands. This typically involves a multi-player trade.

4. Be graceful in taking 'no' for an answer. Some erstwhile colleagues are hearing far worse things than that.

Wise and worldly readers -- have you seen the space scramble handled with something like grace?

This isn't limited to academia.. I was unaware that I was to be downsized.. until someone came to do phone work and was surprised that I was there and later someone came up to measure... it turns out that everyone else was in on the master plan but me.
Back in the day when I worked in Ohio's Dept. of Rehab. and Corr. we would descend on a person's office while they were at their going away party. Space was not the issue -- typewriters, file cabinets, desks, chairs...anything not a permanent fixture was fair game for "transfer."
At ASCCC (Average Southern California Community College) where I work, the hiring freezes and lack of space have been counterbalancing each other. When VenerableProf in our office block retired, his office sat empty for 6 months until it was given to the Campus Coalition Against Hate, which was repeatedly denied their own meeting space when budgets were more generous. If you're lucky, sometimes problems like space and hiring can cancel each other out.
Short answer to final question: No. Walt's comment mirrors what I've seen at work in the (unnamed state) Capitol, where I work to support my adjuncting jones.

Back a few years ago, I was a two-year visiting at a Flatland State School, and lucked out enough to inherit the office of the senior fellow who'd retired: the choice one, with a working window. When my department started interviewing candidates for the permanent position, one of the likelies walked in to the office and explained to me (after a long time scrutinizing shelves, looking in corners, etc) that he was "just seeing if his desk would fit in." and yes, it would.

This was the same search in which I was given the honor of touring the candidates around campus, since I was the faculty member "with the most free time."
One thing the dearly soon to be departed can do is distribute the goodies. Pick out who gets the filing cabinet, and even the office, and let them move in before you are history. Make friends, screw enemies.

Of course, you can always get a mega shredder and fill the space with ground up exams.
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