• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.


Mammals In Space

Dealing with space issues.


May 9, 2018

(No, this isn’t a reference to the old Muppet sketch “Pigs in Space…”)

Over the summer, Brookdale is bringing its Rutgers University partnership to Brookdale’s main campus. Experienced admins know what that means.

Let the space jockeying begin!

There’s widespread support on campus for bringing Rutgers here.  The partnership itself isn’t new; it was first established 20 years ago.  But in that time, it has been at a branch campus (in Freehold), rather than the main campus.  We’re moving it to the main campus in hopes of making it more appealing for students who would like to stay here to complete their four-year degrees.  Selfishly, I’m hoping that it will entice more students to stay here for the sophomore year, since they’ll be staying through the senior year anyway. We have plenty of capacity in our 200-level courses, and the faculty have indicated that they’d be happy to run more sections of upper-level courses if enrollments warranted.  The selling point for students and their families is clear: get a four-year degree from the flagship state university while living at home, paying only community college tuition for the first two years, and being on a pretty, collegiate campus with clubs and sports the entire time.

All of which is lovely.  But then there’s the question of where to put them.

A retiring dean likes to say that the thorniest problems involve “mammals in space,” and I’m discovering that he’s right.  

Among the variables:

  • Over the years, certain classrooms have come to be “owned” by certain departments.  The ownership isn’t literal, of course, but the physical layout and technology in the rooms have been optimized for certain courses.  For example, we have “composition classrooms” in which a set of desks in the middle of the room are surrounded by computers along the walls, so students can alternate between individual work on their papers and lecture/discussion in the middle.  We also have “speech classrooms” in which we’ve put up monitors in the back of the room facing the front, so a speaker doing a presentation can see the PowerPoint slides without looking backwards. Repurposing rooms like those could involve harming the quality of teaching.
  • Faculty generally prefer to have offices near where they most commonly teach, and generally prefer to be with their own departments.  Cascadia Community College in Washington state has done some interesting work with organizing faculty physically by different principles, so it can be done, but we’re still invested in the “department” model.  As a longtime fan of Jane Jacobs, I see the appeal of mixing it up, but this just isn’t the time.
  • A move involves much more inconvenience for some people than for others.  “Why us?” is a very real question.
  • Campus visibility.  I don’t want the partnership to be a well-kept secret.  I want students to know, from the first day they’re here, that the option exists for them.  It only works if students know about it.
  • External visibility.  Coordinating marketing involves allocating costs and decision-making between two institutions.  We’ve done it before, and both sides are willing, but it requires attention and maintenance.
  • Time.  It’s May, and we fully intend to have this up and running in September.  
  • Cost.  Moving is not free.
  • Potential growth.  To put my cards on the table, I hope the program grows.  If it does, over time, it may need more room. Any solution that would “landlock” it, even if it buys short-term peace, is a bad idea.
  • Parking.  Always.

Happily, the plan on which we’ve landed manages to preserve the dedicated composition and speech classrooms, and doesn’t involve moving any faculty offices.  That took some doing, but it worked. We’ll move one dean’s office, but only one building over.

My question for wise and worldly readers who’ve been through similar changes elsewhere: what else should we look for or expect?  Did you find any landmines that surprised you? Mammals in space are tricky, but in this case, I see the payoff being worth it.


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