Published: April 30, 2018

Academic Futures Town Hall Notes

Infrastructure, Space & Budget

April 24, 2018


Jeff Cox:

Brief update on the Academic Futures process.  Some of the ideas that have come up in many of the conversations in these areas include affordable childcare, affordability of housing, the need for more communal space, and unit togetherness.

Comments and Questions:

Infrastructure, Equipment, etc.

  • We need to incentivize good behavior.  Many faculty tend to make decisions on what is good for them vs. what is good for the campus at large.  Example – ordering more equipment without understanding the space, power, and cooling burdens.  In many cases, there already exists extra capacity on current systems that they could just use.
  • We need to provide equitable access to equipment, instrumentation, space, and data and support departments and students that don’t have the funding to pay for those themselves.
  • The “collective good” is sometimes in conflict with individual needs.  How to we create civic-mindedness?
  • We’ve tried to be entrepreneurial, but this can lead to quick, individual-based decisions that bypass normal procedures, especially if bypassing procedures is less painful than following procedures (bureaucracy, time, cost).  This leads to fragmented, unsustainable solutions.
  • We need to find good examples, incentivize, and highlight stories where we are doing well (saving resources and costs, centralizing, etc.).
  • What are the obstacles to not sharing equipment?
    • Resistance to change how you’ve been “doing science” for 30 years.
    • Not seeing the benefits of sharing or the costs of not sharing (space, cooling, power, utility bills, etc.)
    • How do we find out what’s already there and how it can be shared?
    • No one responsible for finding ways to share it.
    • Fear of not be able to get the time you need on the equipment if it is shared.
    • Misperceptions about wait times and actual usage.
    • Faculty like to build close, consultative relationships with their lab personnel who understand the research.  In a shared environment, those relationships are less easy to build.
    • Shared equipment/labs need both the technical experts (who understand the equipment and speak “tech-ese”) and the people-facing experts who know the research (who can speak “faculty-ese”).



  • It is easy to misread what we need.  In the case of space, one department thought the newer faculty would rather have open, flexible office areas, but it didn’t work, and has become a competitive disadvantage – deep work requires space to shut out distractions.  We need to honor the type of work we do and create spaces and procedures that aligns with what we do.
  • For space planning, we need honest, transparent communication from departments to know what is available and/or could be better used. Everyone always asks for more space, but no one ever says “you can have this space back”.    There is no incentive to give up space.
  • We have been hiring faculty without knowing if/where their office is going to be.  Office space is an after-thought. 
  • Paying faculty to give up space would create an incentive.



  • Budgets go up and down every year without any information on why – we don’t understand the benchmarks of what is needed to get funding.  There doesn’t seem to be any formula.
  • Many organizations are set up as auxiliaries or revenue centers and have to “charge” for every little thing – this kills good will.  If it is a common good, it should be funded by the campus.
  • We tend to incentivize outputs rather than outcomes.
  • We have heard from the CFO that we are ok financially.  We need to stop using a discourse of scarcity on the faculty side.  The scarcity mindset leads to short-term decisions based on fear and anxiety.  We need to make wise decisions based on effectiveness.
  • Our budget is actually in a growth mode.  We need to leverage the message of “the common good” and have conversations on:
    • Where are we ok?
    • Where is there true scarcity?
    • What should we stop doing?
  • We have a faculty leadership institute.  We need to create the same thing on the administrative side and find ways to build relationships with key faculty members, operate from a common set of values and principles, and build better understanding and alignment between faculty and administrators.
  • We need to build the organizational structures and culture today for the “university of tomorrow”.
  • We have many governance structures across our campus that include both faculty and administrators that work well – we need to get more people engaged in actively participating in efforts.