Friday, September 16, 2011


Can I just take a moment here and say that I hate how the "facilities" units of (some) universities gouge other units of the university, particularly when those other units are faculty with limited resources?

Can I express my frustration with how (some) "facilities" units do not in fact facilitate much, but instead suck up a lot of money?

Can I also note that my dealings with "facilities" people would perhaps be a bit easier if they would communicate with me directly? They instead prefer to deal with a senior professor who has absolutely nothing to do with my project but with whom they feel "comfortable". He keeps forwarding their e-mails to me and telling them that he has nothing to do with this project and that I am in fact the PI/director of the project and they should communicate with me. And then they e-mail him again with the next bit of information. I have finally eeked my way onto the cc list, so maybe we are making some progress.

I have previously requested shared wallowing about this exact issue, but it may be time to do that again. Feel free to share your stories.

I am on board with the concept of people being paid a high wage for skilled technical work (electrical, plumbing, construction etc.), but I do not think that it should cost many many many thousands of dollars to do basic things, some of which I could do myself (for free!).

And it should not cost many many many thousands of dollars for "facilities" to study a situation before calculating how many many many many more thousands of dollars the actual work will cost.

That's all I have to say on this Friday. And I promise that I will wait a little bit before sending in the manuscript review I just completed until I am sure that my facilities-focused anger does not seep into my review comments and have unfair negative consequences for the authors, who have nothing to do with the "facilities" people on my campus, although I will note that it is not a good paper, in part because the native English-speaking co-author did not read this paper (or, if he did, he did not care enough to do the considerable work necessary to make the paper understandable and instead assumed/hoped that reviewers and editors would do all that).

[/end rant]


Alex said...

I eagerly await a similar rant on university IT departments.

Although I hasten to add that my university's IT folks are uniformly kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human beings I've ever known in my life. The problematic IT folks are all at a university where "my friend" works.

Also, if the paper is poorly written, it should be rejected on general principles. You aren't just reviewing a piece of experimental or computational work, you're also reviewing a piece of written work.

John Vidale said...

Two of troubling words - asbestos and signage - only the brave or very rich penetrate the walls or mount permanent signs.

EliRabett said...

What you have is a failure to communicate. You need to get to know the facilities people, e.g. the operating engineers, the cleaners the HVAC people, etc., talk to them, explain what you are doing and stress how it helps the students. This is what gets good service.

Costs are costs, and they are real. Just remember what the last repair at your house costs. Everything has to be done to code, papers have to be filed with the local permitting office and more

queenrandom said...

Our darkroom has been without a redlight for a month now. One of the PIs got fed up and complained, and facilities told her that A)light bulbs were backordered (shenanigans! it's a normal 60W bulb ferchrissake) and B)it's not a facilities supported piece of equipment so she should be happy they're doing anything (bullshit! I know this from the time I had to have the cord repaired). She bought one and put it in herself for considerably cheaper than facilities would have.

Anonymous said...

Seems the "one of those weeks" syndrome has extended far from my locale.

May you have a more pleasant weekend and coming work week.

DrDoyenne said...

You bring up an interesting point regarding employees of "facilities" departments not communicating directly with you, but with a male colleague who has no connection with whatever is being discussed.

This is a pet peeve of mine...and not just facilities employees. Over the years, I've had land managers (study sites), funding program directors, administrative staff, other PIs, etc. attempt to communicate with me through people they feel more comfortable with (a subordinate, a superior, a co-PI, the guy in the office next to mine....). Both are always male.

I usually handle it by asking the recipient to forward these messages to me. I then contact whoever it is and answer their question (or whatever) directly. In some cases, I'll add that the person they originally contacted has no connection with the project or has no authority to release the information or to make decisions.

As you observed, however, some of these people persist in sending messages via the person they are comfortable with. They simply ignore your request for direct communication.

The key in these cases, I think, is to work on the contact and insist they do not respond on your behalf...only forward the message to you.

Some of these contacts are "enablers", however, who encourage further communication by responding with some bit of information about you, about their relationship with you, about the weather, about last night's football game, or anything that perpetuates their relationship on your behalf.

In most cases, these enablers think they are doing you a favor (being chivalrous, for example). Of course, what they are doing is undermining your authority.

Without the enabler, the person sending the message will have to contact you directly to get whatever he wants.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I feel your pain. In my 3 years in my faculty position I have had to oversee 3 renovations (1 for my lab, 1 for a teaching lab, and 1 for a shared departmental lab). Can't count the number of hours lost or the times I looked at an estimate and said 'you're charging how much to do that??'.

Best one was getting the autoclave installed. 5-6 times I clearly stated we wanted a floor drain in case of catastrophic leaking (as did the other faculty member working with me on this, who is male so it's not just them ignoring a woman). They said it was included in the quote (which had $$$$ for plumbing and lines for drain items). They do the work.. turns out the $$$$ was for the regular draining function, no floor drain (even though I went around with the team from facilities from room to room to pick the easiest room to install said drain). Shortly after installation, you guessed it, we flooded the floor. GAH.

nanoalchemist said...

This is one of the slowest areas to change in regards to the "good ol' boys" network. I'm not going to go into a socio-economic breakdown of why that is, but it it's probably going be that way until greater inroads are made in breaking through the glass cellar, and we see more female electricians, plumbers, etc.

That said, I can sympathize with frustration of having someone "end-run" around you when trying to work together. But we should be careful in not tarring with too broad a brush, or devaluing someone else's discomfort. While these folks are professionals, it can be intimidating dealing with "Smart people," and, I have OFTEN seen faculty who are not able to effectively communicate with people in Facilities roles. It is a different culture. And almost a different language.

Consider this situation: A female student goes to a female faculty member or TA rather than her male prof. Or a minority student feels more comfortable talking to a Faculty member of Color about graduation issues, rather than their listed adviser. I think we'd all understand.

aceon said...

I recently brought my drill and hammer from home to install a whiteboard in my office. Facilities wanted $500 for this 10 minute job. Perhaps their wrath will be visited upon me for penetrating the walls, but since nobody enters my office anymore to do things like empty the trash or clean the floor, I figure chances are slim.

Anonymous said...

I've not had any problems with communication, but the COSTS are simply untenable. For the SIMPLEST things. And doesn't it seem like they have an awful lot of state-mandated breaks?

While we're on rants, how about the Fly America Act?!

SlowBro said...

Along these same lines-the whole "you are lucky to be able to put do research in OUR building" attitude makes me crazy. It is NOT Ok for a facilities person to enter my optics lab, climb on the optics table and spray paint the ceiling tiles. Our facilities folks never take into account what goes on in the labs, what can be disturbed, what will fail if the room is consistently 90 degrees or what happens if the power goes out without notice because you didn't bother to warn us of a known power outage. This MAKES ME CRAZY!

So Amen FSP and EliRabett, you must not have dealt with facilities much or had many home repairs because I got my entire kitchen redone for $40K but it cost me $20K to have 2 cabinets (which were recycled) put up in my lab (and there were no asbestos issues).

Old Biddy said...

Yeah, we get that here. It was a big change after being in industry for many years. The department has some great facilities people, and they do the simple stuff and/or turn a blind eye when we do it ourselves. For instance, I was strongly advised not to paint the hood, but that anything that wasn't permanently attached was fair game. As far as I know they are paid via overhead and most jobs aren't billed to the PI, within reason. Bigger stuff - e.g. plumbing and electrical, and large construction still has to go through the campus facilities departments, and boy oh boy they will gouge you if they can. Don't even ask me about the asbestos removal. The department guys are great about acting as intermediaries between me and the campus folks, knowing how to get better rates, which subcontractors work hard and which ones are slackers, catching extra charges, etc, etc. They are also very proactive about pointing out to all the contractors that I know what I'm doing. I am hugely grateful to them.

EliRabett said...

Slo, Eli has dealt with more facilities than you can imagine, and he ALWAYS is very careful that anyone who comes into his building knows the rules.

FrauTech said...

nanoalchemist makes me think of a relevant point in regards to possible sexism with this.

Being an engineer and often dealing with technicians in other departments, they sometimes struggle in dealing with me because it is difficult for them to deal with an educated woman for whose opinion they must defer to. I've seen them turn to less experienced males or non-engineer males because it's easier for them to accept that person as a superior. Luckily most of the techs I deal with actually have a badass woman at the top of their chain of command who runs the shop and that makes a BIG difference. But I have noticed this attitude in other places.