and Possible Solutions
To the Editors:
College has recently announced the layoffs of 11 employees as part
of the process to eliminate budget deficits. The annual savings
associated with this move is projected to be $250,000. The disruption
to the lives of these 11 individuals is incalculable.
The College has reportedly eliminated 78 positions over the last
year leaving some areas seriously understaffed. This is particularly
true for our facilities operations. We presently operate, for instance,
with an insufficient number of carpenters and custodians to properly
maintain our facilities.
I believe there is a better place that the College might reduce
its budget — this is in how it manages its facilities. Four
years ago the College eliminated three management positions and
simultaneously entered a five-year contract with Facilities Management
Resources (FRM) to oversee plant operations. Although that firm
was subsequently purchased by Aramark, local Oberlin folks continue
to refer to it as FRM. The details of this contract are among the
Administration’s most closely held secret — but public
disclosures reveal that for the first three years of their contract
FRM was paid just under 4 million dollars. In 2000-1, the last year
for which fees have been disclosed, FRM was paid $1,417,783. An
estimated $400,000 of this is for management of the Science Construction
Project. But the bulk of the fee, about $900,000/yr, is for management
of our facilities. These are the fees for supplying us with three
on-site managers along with “expert advice” available
to them through FRM’s home office.
I have had a chance to witness the expert advice supplied by FRM
in connection with several projects including the Lewis Center construction
and the renovation of the Wright Laboratory. I have found their
engineering expertise to be wanting. I would be happy to justify
this statement, but I will save this for another letter.
Many faculty have little reason to think about the state of our
facilities so long as the lights and heat are working. But others,
including many in the sciences, depend daily on proper facilities
operations. Among folks who either work in or with facilities operations
or whose activities depend strongly on facilities there are two
widely disparate views about the quality of our facilities management
under FRM. One opinion, mainly held by those in Cox, is that Oberlin
College facilities are now better managed than ever.
The other opinion, held by many others, is that our facilities are
being poorly run and maintained, and that College construction projects
are poorly managed. This opinion is widely held among science faculty,
A&PS and hourly employees (throughout campus — particularly
those in facilities operations) and outside contractors.
The Administration will claim that FRM’s management has resulted
in significant cost savings. But much of the savings has come by
leaving work undone — today’s savings at the expense
of tomorrow. How do we calculate the “cost” to our academic
programs that operate sub-optimally because facilities problems
are not addressed? I and many of my colleagues can provide numerous
examples where FRM’s management has cost this institution
Their performance aside, we simply cannot afford FRM in our current
budget situation. In today’s employment market the three FRM
managers could be replaced locally for $400,000, freeing up $500,000
— sufficient funds to prevent the 11 layoffs we have already
experienced and to fill badly needed positions in the trades. This
is not a slam at the individual FRM employees — I would hope
that the College could entice one of them to stay!
I have great respect and appreciation for our service employees
— custodians, electricians, carpenter, and the many union
and non-union employees who keep our facility running. These employees
are under-appreciated and over-worked. Under FRM, mid-level managers
have been forced out and those that remain are experience great
pressure to “do more with less.” I have never seen this
work force so demoralized.
The initial five-year contract with FRM is nearing its end and the
College is considering entering a second five-year contract with
them. How should we use the $900,000 that is currently being paid
to FRM to manage our facilities? I believe we will have better facilities
operations if we replace them with our own managers and use the
extra funds to fill vacant non-management positions.
Chair Department of Physics & Astronomy