This semester has been a pretty bad one for our campus when it comes to deferred maintenance issues. Last month, one of the academic buildings on campus had an electrical fire in the basement (thankfully, on a weekend), causing it to be shut down for a period of time, with classes needing to be relocated, as well as offices, both personal and administrative. And now, last Monday, the building where the English department is located (along with the Business faculty), as well as most of our classrooms and offices lost power, and will be without power (and thus unusable) for at least the next six weeks. This, of course, includes the last three weeks of classes as well as finals week.
My husband no longer has an office on campus. Most of my colleagues no longer have offices on campus. And, they no longer have a classroom in which to teach. The university is scrambling to find classroom space, while the main offices of the departments impacted are already relocated. But, most faculty won’t be relocated to temporary office space. This becomes highly problematic towards the end of the semester when we are trying to conference with students about their final papers. It’s also problematic because in our area, it’s not a given that high-speed internet reaches where people, both professors and students, live.
I first heard the term “deferred maintenance” when I was Graduate Student President ten years ago. It was continually brought up as an issue to the Board, as well as various other committees that I sat on. The problem was that the major fixes that needed to get done remained unfunded, in part because of lack of funds, but also because most infrastructure funding was earmarked for new projects and not deferred maintenance needs. It was easier to raise money through donations to support the building of new facilities; no major donor was particularly interested in helping to maintain the underlying infrastructure of already existing facilities. As the VP Facilities ran through the numbers and the list of projects that needed attention, I would cringe; it’s not that shiny new buildings were going up instead of this basic maintenance, it was that the way the money was allocated made it almost impossible to spend it where it was most needed. Things, it would seem, are not so different where I am teaching, or at any public institution.
So, we had to wait until things broke in order to be able to fix them. And now, things have broken. And while I know that most adjuncts don’t have access to a lot of the facilities I’m describing here where they work, we all, at least, had our classroom space as reliable. Now, we and our students are faced with a lot of uncertainty as the semester comes to a close, a very stressful time for all of us. Thankfully, no one was injured or worse during these incidents, but that was just because of the luck of the timing of these events; a fire on a Wednesday morning may have been much more catastrophic than over a weekend, or a blackout during an evening class on the fourth floor during the winter. As I was told, deferred maintenance isn’t a very “sexy” issue. Until it becomes a very real and potentially dangerous one.
*Update: Or, if it impacts a building that the administration deems more important than just simply classroom and faculty space. Because of what was happening to our building was impacting another building, we miraculously got power restored on Friday. How did six weeks turn into less than five? Priorities, and apparently teaching and faculty space isn’t one.