A university campus during August is often a very different place. Summer sessions are winding down, camp is winding down, most faculty and most students are not here until late in the month. I always miss the interaction with faculty and students and I especially miss the energy that is omnipresent during the academic year.
Looking at a campus from the vantage point of being an economist is even more depressing. Many, many somewhat empty buildings, and equally empty residence halls and facilities, even somewhat empty parking lots (and no complaints about parking). We are an industry that often does not use our physical facilities at anywhere close to maximum efficiency. To begin with, our maximum usage is in most cases over a thirty week a year basis, heavy usage in the fall and spring semesters (with the fall often seeing the greatest usage), less usage during summer and January, and even less usage in August. We also are an industry where often there is peak usage only at certain times during the week and limited usage during other times. For example, Monday through Thursday, 9 AM to 2 PM are often peak periods in terms of students and faculty being present but Friday afternoon sees a fraction of the usage that these other times have. Eight AM has limited popularity, both with students and faculty, and 3-6 PM also has that limited popularity. In the evening, typically for a graduate education, 6-8 PM is very popular and 4-6 is somewhat popular (especially for teachers) but 8-10 PM is once again much more lightly utilized.
Faculty offices are also somewhat lightly utilized. With much of the routine student faculty interaction taking place by email or text messages, there is less need for students to come to a faculty member’s office and less need for the faculty member to utilize his or her office. Faculty often confine their in-person office hours to days that they teach and a typical time in set office hours is one hour per week per class taught. I am not suggesting that faculty are unavailable to students. I think they are more available now than in the past but that doesn’t necessarily involve a physical presence in an office.
When I started teaching, I shared my first office with three other faculty. Subsequent to that time, I shared an office with one additional full-time faculty member as well as an adjunct faculty member. Now all our full-time faculty have individual offices and I feel strongly, in terms of advisement and pursuing scholarship, that an individual office is essential. Nevertheless, these office are used, as noted above, on a somewhat limited basis.
And last but certainly not least, we have the transformation of part-time graduate education from in person to online. Online is also more prevalent on the undergraduate level but often during more limited time frames—summer and January rather than fall and spring. Hybrid courses also potentially limit the in person time on campus for both students and faculty.
We often talk about a new business model for higher education; as we develop the new business model consideration of the efficient use of campus space needs to be part of the discussion.