Monday, August 28, 2006

The Laws of Space and View

I had an epiphany. For the past few years, I have had a "chairman" type office. 160 square feet of floor space, corner, three large windows, looking directly onto Duke's lovely main quad. In those years I have done....crap. Chairman stuff. As I wrote about before, the urgent stuff crowding out the important stuff.

Anyway, the epiphany is that there are two dimensions that almost perfectly describe the assignment of office space in academics. These are (1) space and (2) windows/view. Let me explain.

1. Space: the unused frontier. Here is "Munger's Law of Academic Office Space":

The larger the office, the less time it will be used.

This could be because the (non)occupant is travelling a lot, of course. But it is just as likely that the person with a large office has (yes, I'm not making this up) another large office! In academics, the people with large offices are more likely to have multiple offices. In any case, new assistant profs are assigned a grotto, and fill it completely with stuff, because they pretty much live there. The real capis have more, but use it much, much less.

The reason it is important to have two offices? Paradoxically, it is to explain why you are not using your office! "Where is Dr. Smith?" "Oh, he must be in his other office." Yeah, yeah...THAT must be it.

2. Windows/View: the antidote to work. Here is "Munger's Law of View":

The more windows in the office, and the better the view, the less actual academic work will be done in the office.

As far as I can tell, "nice" offices used to be given out to people as compensation for administrative duties. That is, we all know it sucks to be an administrator, but we'll give you an office with these beautiful views of the Old Well, the bell tower, the mountains, the ocean, something.

But after the proliferation of McAdminstration in state universities*, there are dozens of demi-deans scampering the halls. If you aren't careful, you crunch three or four of them underfoot, like little cockroaches, just walking to a meeting. They are there to ensure that real administrators don't have to do any administrative work, to go along with the academic work real administrators at state universities are being paid extra not to do.

The norm held, though: Admin people get nicer offices. And nicer furniture. Even though most of them never receive visitors except other admin people. They have never done any academic work, and never will. But they have a most excellent view of the football stadium, and Saturdays they could see part of the game from their window. If they were ever there on a Saturday. Or even a Friday afternoon.

*I haven't been at a state university in some time, and perhaps things aren't as bad as I remember. But I bet that if anything it has gotten worse. I have to admit, I don't see the same trend at private universities. There is a proliferation of administrators to deal with students, but that is at least partly a response to customer demand. But I don't see the same proliferation of "vice associate deputy provosts of building custodian management" as at state schools.