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?