Off the Quad

Seeking more room for research and teaching, universities move some non-academic staff away from campus.
July 27, 2007

Within the next year, hundreds of people in Stanford University's business affairs division will move from their offices on the main campus to an off-site research park. By then, Cornell University employees in some of the administrative and non-academic departments will have settled into their new off-campus facility.

As many universities continue to face space squeezes, they are freeing up room for teaching and research by moving non-academic staff away from the central campus. Officials say it's the best option given the growing demand for classroom and lab space, but some fear staff will become less connected to their institutions as they move farther away.

On research-oriented campuses, the largest single use of space (nearly 30 percent) is dedicated to offices or office-type activities, according to research from Ira Fink and Associates, a planning firm whose clients are colleges and universities. The issue is not new, said Ira Fink, the company's president, but one that often resurfaces when campuses go through waves of construction.

Stanford's "Work Anywhere" initiative involves what Margaret Dyer-Chamberlain, senior director of capital planning and space management in Land, Buildings and Real Estate, calls a "musical chairs for departments."

About 350 employees -- including those in human resources, information technology services and the controller's offices -- who are located in two campus buildings are moving to the off-campus office space so that construction can begin on a new Graduate School of Business. Other Stanford employees are being relocated so that the School of Medicine can begin its own project.

"The pressures on land and buildings in Stanford's core campus area have become increasingly intense in recent years," John L. Hennessy, the university's president, said in a statement. "Maintaining [our] vision will require flexibility, openness to change and an innovative approach to sustaining Stanford's excellence within existing space constraints.”

Stanford officials say the moves are strategic, and not a sign of which offices are doing work deemed "more or less important to the educational mission."

The Cornell project involves moving about 200 non-academic staff -- some of whom already were located away from the central campus -- into a new building less than a mile away. Rich McDaniel, vice president for business services and environmental safety, said while there's always a need for some non-academic space on the main campus, the university wants most buildings there to house faculty, senior administrators and students.

Likewise, McDaniel said Cornell is looking to keep many of the non-academic departments together in one building to encourage collaboration. Fink, the planning firm president, said it's common for colleges to consider the function of its space and its departments when making office location choices. In other words, why spread academic buildings across a campus and into a college town when clustering would make life easier for students and many administrators?

Land cost is often a factor. Colleges find their campus space to be so valuable that it makes sense to put the non-academic departments in cheaper off-campus buildings, Fink said. Some professional schools have also moved off campus, although Fink said that's often a product of them needing to be downtown.

For many campuses that relocate non-academic employees, finding off-campus or adjacent-to-campus sites is part of their normal process, according to Fink. Some of the larger campuses, such as Texas A&M University, Ohio State University and the University of Colorado at Boulder, are running out of space on their main campuses and moving enterprises such as research centers and medical center administration buildings away.

For some institutions, the office moves are a temporary solution. Wake Forest University has relocated several non-academic departments into a commercial property it owns near campus. Connie L. Carson, assistant vice president for campus services and planning, said it's "highly likely" the offices will move back on campus when the new master plan takes shape.

At the University of Dayton, however, campus planners are thinking of a more permanent fix. Many of its non-academic units have or are slated to move to a large parcel of land the institution purchased adjacent to the main campus. Rick Perales, Dayton's campus planning director, said the university has long been landlocked, and the new acquisition will allow the original campus to house more classrooms, academic offices and green space.

"We do have a concern of not splitting the campus in two," Perales said. "We realized we can't have it black and white, all academic or all [non-academic]. At the same time, you can walk across our campus in 12 minutes."

He said planners are making a concerted effort to provide some mix -- a new doctoral program in physical therapy, for instance, is located in a building on the new campus primarily filled with non-academic employees.

Fink, who has written about the subject of relocation for Planning for Higher Education, the journal of the Society for College and University Planning, said that it's important to keep like departments together. "There's a tendency to cherry pick and take pieces of things when moving," he said in an interview. "That could make a campus dysfunctional. You have to keep in mind, 'How does this entity function, and who needs to be near each other.' "

John Lippincott, president of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, whose members often are the ones relocating, said some units are best suited to be off campus. Fund raisers are often traveling, he said, so giving them prime office space doesn't always make sense. Foundation or alumni relation departments can find that locations off or on the edge of campus are more desirable -- visitors who come often like easy parking and access to the buildings. (But Lippincott said he sees that as less of an argument for putting departments like communication and marketing away from campus.)

"It seems appropriate to ask, 'If these are [departments] whose functions are without student-related traffic, do they really need to be at the core of campus?' " said Daniel K. Paulien, president of Paulien & Associates, a company that does higher education planning. "At the same time, I've seen the loss of a feeling of tie-in with the campus itself -- the ability to observe things as you walk to work and get the feeling you are part of it all."

Both Paulien and Lippincott said once a college has moved departments away from campus, it has an obligation to provide employees incentives. Dyer-Chamberlain, the Stanford director, said staff who are moving into the research park have expressed concern about how it will affect their commutes and how they will get to and from campus. She said the university will run a shuttle service, in addition to offering health programs and a weekly speaker series with lunch.

"We know this is difficult -- people love being on the main campus, and there's a sense of loss moving away," she said. "The big picture is we're trying to maintain as many connections to this location as we possibly can. It's important that [employees] feel integrated."

Many times, Fink said, those who initially complain about moving end up happier in their new locations. Parking is better. Their office is roomier. They don't need to walk through campus to get to the building.

The Stanford initiative also is focusing on how departments can better communicate with each other when they are physically far apart. Dyer-Chamberlain, who co-chairs a task force on office location and usage, said the group will consider use of conference technology as well as when to offer more flexible office hours. Lippincott said flexible work hours or work-from-home arrangements continue to be valued by non-academic employees.


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