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Could I suggest an expansion of #3 and a potential fourth explanation ? And a cynical fifth potential explanation
(a) many university professors feel class guilt about complaining about the cleaning staff assigned to their areas in any way that would have consequences (i.e. risk getting someone fired), so they grin and bear it. The cleaners, being rational economic actors, realize that reducing effort gives them more utility with no adverse consequences, so they go for it

(b) university cleaning staff are often unionized with heavy protections and work rules. In some sense that means (a) becomes more forceful, and also there are work rules bringing about gross inefficiencies (the person with the mop can't use the vacuum and vice versa)

(c) it's a conspiracy by the administration so as to cull the expensive older professors: create a filthy environment that is especially suitable for spreading infectious diseases (doubly so when you think about the typical undergraduate's cleaning habits!) and take advantage of those older and emeritus professors' weakened immune systems... This would be coherent with the toilets and cafeterias often being the most filthy places on campus.

Andrew, definitely (b). To some extent (a), though I think professors' political beliefs are more diverse than is often assumed.

(c) is something I'd never thought of. Given the strains most university pension plans are under, targeting the emeritus profs would be a cunning plan. Older profs, however, are wise to the ways of administrators, and foil their plans by simply not coming onto campus except to teach their classes, if then. They can also avoid infectious diseases by minimizing contact with students...

Professors' offices are signals to colleagues and students. My office* has a fish tank which is well-maintained and the rest of the office is untidy 9 days in 10**. It is how I want it to be. It is the correct level of untidiness. All I want is the floor vacuumed and the garbage emptied.

*OK, I am a research scientist and adjunct prof and usually see only students in our research group in my office.

**Who am I kidding? 39 days in 40.

Chris J - At the risk of doing a four yorkshiremen:

"A vacuumed floor. Luxury."

My brother-in-law (a prof, not at Carleton) took a vacuum cleaner up to his office one day so he could get rid of the dust and dirt. Several colleagues heard the noise and dropped by to investigate. "Where did you get that? Can I borrow it?" By the end of the day the bag on the vacuum cleaner was full, and had to be replaced.

This is not unique to universities. It happens in private sector offices as well. Cleaners essentially empty garbage cans daily and vacuum as needed. Desk surfaces are never touched, so most people have some way of cleaning their own desks. The tops of filing cabinets are usually coated in a thick layer of dust. As a tall person, I can see the layer of dust coating everything so I clean the top of my cabinet. Many people can't see it, so out of sight, out of mind...

My guess is admin provides only as much cleaning as necessary to avoid high volume of complaints about cleanliness.

I think it's the same as at home. Sometimes the DIY allocation of resources is more efficient, despite comparative disadvantage, because of transactions/coordination costs. My guess is that more profs DIY at home than at work. More clean their own homes etc than clean their own offices. What's puzzling is that there is so little DIY at work compared to DIY at home. The answer is probably: DIY at home is a way to avoid taxes while DIY at work isn't; economies of scale apply more at work than at home.

By the time you find who to call to unblock the drain, and they come over and unblock it, the deanery has already flooded. So DIY makes sense. BTW, I did mention that drain to you, didn't I, and that it's part of the associate dean's job? ;-)

Do most universities actually think of marginal costs in general, though, especially when it comes to rational use of professors' expensive time?

A few examples: my university some years ago was obsessed about expense of photocopies. So it instituted a system whereby each professor could get a set number a year (between 0 and 500 depending on the department) from the department copier, and the rest are 'requisitioned' - at first this was on a form in triplicate (no, I kid not) now by e-mail, sent to the dept. secretary, who sends it to the central photocopying service, which hands the packet over to someone to deliver it, so the secretary can put it to your box or office. All data then is regularly compiled by the dept. administrative assistant so that cost can be assigned to the right budgets (faculty/dept/ central). I cannot imagine that this process was ever properly costed!

Another example: departments used to organize their own orientation activities for entering students. Organising a day of activities in the department took about 2 hours (at most). Then central took over: they hired a special person who sends off e-mails, reserves rooms, schedules, orders sandwiches, coordinates exactly who has to go where etc etc. The big affair is much harder to pull off without a glitch. The department contact person has to answer central's e-mails, report how ready the dept is, and when it is all over, report on how it went, so data can be compiled, counted, reported, summarized in an annual report. In short, now each coordinator often spends more than the 2 hours, but at the cost of another administrative staff.

What strikes me is that while university administrations talk more and more the language of business and management (generally to cut department budgets), the business rationality of the orgganisation is ... let's just say, lacking. Do you really think that anyone thought through the cleaning issue as carefully as you have? I fear that summary cleaning policies turns out make economic sense only by accident.

fchaum - thanks for sharing those examples.

On your broader poinst..."marginal costs of professors' expensive time?" Tenured and tenure-track profs (the ones whose time is expensive) are mostly paid a fixed salary. So it's an open question what the marginal cost is - i.e. what gets sacrificed - when profs clean their own offices - leisure? teaching? research? I'm guessing that, when the WLU decided to eliminate garbage pick-up (see @tammyschirle's response to this post on twitter), someone was figuring that profs would be able to cope with their own garbage without significantly decreasing time spent on teaching or research.

"the business rationality of the orgganisation is ... let's just say, lacking"

I think it's easy for people in administration not to realize how squalid the parts of campus not visited regularly by administrators are. And I say that as an administrator.

I don't work for a university, but if someone tried to clean my desk I would go nuts. No, you aren't allowed to touch my stuff!

sorry for this testing

collective agreement calls for my office to be cleaned, but I've just been informed they'll no longer take out the trash.

"To some extent (a), though I think professors' political beliefs are more diverse than is often assumed."

Plus, those who talk the loudest about class are often the ones who care the least about the actual working class.

I'd second Andrew's and Alex' comments that your second theory (that professors don't want people cleaning their office) probably has a lot of weight. My office demonstrates a, shall we say "unorthodox", filing system, but the cleaners don't touch it. Even when they come by a couple of times a year to clean the carpets, papers on the floor don't get moved. You wouldn't want to be the cleaner who throws out someone's mark-up of a critical agreement (or notes on their latest book).

Jim - interesting.

Nick, now which Associate Dean is responsible - do blocked drains fall under retention, or under public administration, or under quality assurance? ;-)

Seriously, your comparison with DIY household chores make a lot of sense. This gets back to the conversation we were having off-line about my unfinished blog post on valuing household production.

Bob - does your office only get vacuumed twice a year? Or is this a more serious cleaning that you're talking about?

Times are obviously much tougher than I thought in the legal profession.

I was thinking of the carpet shampooing.

Bob - o.k., I think we're living in different worlds in terms of office maintenance.

Terry McGarty responds with his dirty office stories here: http://terrymcgarty.blogspot.ca/2013/09/academics-and-clean-offices.html.

Terry, so this happens in the world's greatest universities too!

The econ department at Carleton gets more bats than mice - being right next to the river, quiet, and cat-free, it's ideal bat habitat.

When administrators scrimp on cleaning, they're doing what most people would want them to. First, they give people a reason to complain about administrators, and this fosters improved bonding amongst work groups (non-financial compensation). Second, they are executing purely symbolic cost-savings measures, rather than saving real money by eliminating the Fine Art School or doubling parking fees (unless there's some performance art involving parking).

Interestingly, schools are much cleaner than universities almost anywhere in Canada. This may be due to a social consensus that the filthiness of children is awful but the slovenliness of academics is charming.

Hospitals generally don't scrimp on cleaning because the problems it would create are much larger (infection, falls, etc). But the office situation is just as bad. The primary ruse is to call in a clogged toilet or a wet floor in the waiting room, then do a Columbo one-more-thing with the cleaners. And I have vacuumed my own office too.

Shangwen - the schools/universities contrast is an interesting one. The washrooms in the local high school are at least as clean, if not cleaner, than the typical Carleton one.

One thought on schools: I was chatting about classrooms with a teacher over the summer. She confessed that she is constantly anxious about the artistic merits of her classroom displays - teachers, she figures, are judged by the way that their classrooms are decorated.

If people judge teachers by the state of their classrooms, that gives teachers an incentive to keep the classroom tidy.

I recently retired as an systems administrator at UCLA. My offices were cleaned daily.
However , I accumulated over time a set of papers , manuals , and documents that
I periodically purged, because these were the tools I worked with and
I was the person who could tell what to toss and what to keep.
No issue here at all.

At my son's school two benches in the courtyard fell apart. Since last spring they have been nothing more than a pile of rotted boards with nails poking out. Last week another parent and I carried out a guerrilla action and hauled them away to the dumpster. A group of parents was building a raised bed for gardening so we were able to walk about with boards unnoticed. And I recently heard of another parent who carried Ice Melt to his children's school because the steps where so icy and treacherous. While these examples do not involve cleaning per se , they indicate a general disregard for the condition of the school buildings. Given these examples I am not so sure that schools are as clean as we might hope at least here in BC.

Rachel - good for you!

Do you remember SEP field in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books? It was a way of making things almost completely invisible by shrouding them with a Someone Else's Problem field.

I suspect the benches must have had an SEP field around them, hence were invisible to all custodial and other staff.

Whether the SEP field temporarily lifted, or you have extraordinary abilities to see things that are invisible to others, I don't know.

Our dept secretary sent out this memo today. Apparently, the mice and rats - uggh- are loving the composting in our old academic building.

"This is also a great opportunity to inform you that as the weather is getting a little colder to please keep food items in secure areas as mice will be wondering the offices looking for food. Last year, we had a terrible time with not only mice but rats were also seen in the building, so it’s very important to ensure that food, and dirty dishes are out of reach. As well, old food and food scraps should be placed in the composter in the hallway not in your office garbage cans.

I’ve also notice that the new microwave is getting rather dirty, out dated food items are being left in the fridge, and that the sink area of the lounge is becoming more cluttered and messes are not being cleaned up properly. Please be considerate of others and cover your food when being microwaved, clean up your mess and dishes in the sink, microwave, counter, and fridge. It is not our job or the custodian’s job to keep these areas clean, it is the responsibility of individuals to clean up their own mess. This too will help with mice in the lounge."

Ughh, uggh. That memo just killed my appetite for using the dept lounge.

Louise, truly gross. By the way (and in this spirit of this blog's long-standing tradition of linking to British comedy) David Mitchell's rant about a mouse is a must-view if you have a mouse in your house.

Enough to make anyone think twice about eating lunch at their desk....

Francis; you may find this interesting. Cockblocked by redistribution: http://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/cockblocked-by-redistribution

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