Chapter 13: Improve Facility Utilization

Compare the use of building space at a typical private business and a university. The private business usually uses most space at least 50 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, and often more than that—well over 2,000 hours annually. By contrast, large amounts of campus building space is occupied perhaps 25 hours a week, perhaps 32 weeks a year—800 hours a year. (This problem is less prevalent at for-profit universities operating with strong financial incentives to maximize facility utilization.) In the long run, using facilities more intensely will reduce the need for new buildings, reducing capital and maintenance costs noticeably.

Units within universities think that they “own” the space they occupy, and often are reluctant to share it with others who can better utilize it. The solution to this and related “turf” problems is to assert institutional (as opposed to departmental or college) ownership over all facilities, and then use the market mechanism to allocate space more efficiently. For example, the university might give departments specific budget allocations to cover rent of facilities, and then charge rents in a manner that would increase off-peak usage. Perhaps classrooms would be free for use on Fridays, evenings, weekends, and in the summer, relatively cheap at 8 a.m. or after 4 p.m., but relatively costly at other times. Departmental funds provided for rents should be established at less than what would be required to maintain the pre-rental usage of facilities.

The concept of renting space can apply to more than classrooms and laboratories. It should be used with respect to office space as well. The market incentive can even be carried down one more level. Each faculty member could be given a personal budget for telephone, computer usage and internet access, mail, travel, and, most relevant here, office space. Rents on offices would vary with their desirability. Those insisting on large private offices with a beautiful view would have fewer funds available for travel or other support services.

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