Layoffs and Possible Solutions

To the Editors:

Oberlin 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 dearly.
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.

–John Scofield
Chair Department of Physics & Astronomy

November 8
November 15

site designed and maintained by jon macdonald and ben alschuler :::