A friend of mine who has been a provost and dean has entertained me for years with stories about amazing things faculty and students (at other universities) do. Stories of the you-couldn't-make-this-stuff-up (and be believed) sort. One of my favorites involved a senior professor who became completely unhinged when a new custodian moved the professor's wastebasket to a different location from the one it had been in for 36 years.
I realize that mentioning that incident is not helpful to my ongoing effort to convince people that (most) professors aren't (too) eccentric, but clearly some of us are deeply weird.
That professor's response -- i.e., writing/calling the provost repeatedly to complain, threatening to sue -- was a bit extreme, but it reminds me of how much we all depend on reliable custodial services in our academic buildings.
In the course of my academic career, I've worked in some buildings that had the same friendly and reliable custodian for many years. Because I have also experienced situations in which there was rapid overturn of the custodial staff, including a few who were a bit alarming and some whose work did not seem to include actually cleaning the building (and one who let thieves into my office to steal things), I do not take it for granted when the custodian who cleans my office is someone I like and trust.
During a recent disruption in custodial services in a building in which I spend a lot of time, the rate at which the building became filthy was remarkable: hallways, classrooms, and restrooms became noticeably grimy and littered in a week. The building also became less safe because there weren't reliable people looking after it, making sure the doors were locked in the evening, and making sure there weren't random people wandering around. After a few weeks, the university had to bring in a special cleaning team to get the building back to a decent level of cleanliness.
That can't possibly have been cost effective, but one of the ways in which some universities are economizing is to cut down on custodial services. I can deal with having my wastebasket emptied less often as long as it is put back in the right place, but I hate to think about the people who are losing their jobs as a result.
I am also dismayed that some universities are making it more difficult for staff members to take courses at reduced tuition rates. Many of the staff members I know (custodial, clerical, administrative, technical) have taken courses, either to work towards a degree and perhaps a better job and/or higher pay, or out of curiosity. For example, some staff members in my department, including some custodians, have taken our intro-level Science class because they were curious about what it is we are all doing here in our offices and labs.
I think the effect of taking away staff tuition benefits will be that staff will take many fewer classes. This will not save the university any money, and will have major negative consequences for many staff members.
I know that the budget has to be cut, it has to be cut severely, and there are only so many ways to do that. Even so, firing custodial staff, who are among the lowest paid regular employees at the university, and taking away one of the most excellent benefits of working at a university will have significant consequences for the safety, health, and intellectual environment of the campus.
9 months ago