Upstairs, Downstairs at the University of Chicago

by Corey Robin on October 9, 2013

Back in May at the University of Chicago, this happened:

Two locksmiths with medical conditions were told to repair locks on the fourth floor of the Administration Building during the day. Stephen Clarke, the locksmith who originally responded to the emergency repair, has had two hip replacement surgeries during his 23 years as an employee of the University. According to Clarke, when he asked Kevin Ahn, his immediate supervisor, if he could use the elevator due to his medical condition, Ahn said no. Clarke was unable to perform the work, and Elliot Lounsbury, a second locksmith who has asthma, was called to perform the repairs. Lounsbury also asked Ahn if he could use the elevator to access the fourth floor, was denied, and ended up climbing the stairs to the fourth floor.


Clarke and Lounsbury were told they had to haul their asthma and hip replacements up four flights of stairs because the University of Chicago has had a policy of forbidding workers from using the elevators in this building, which houses the President’s office, during daytime hours. As the university’s director of labor relations put it: “The University has requested that maintenance and repair workers should normally use the public stairway in the Administration Building rather than the two public elevators.”

Upstairs, downstairs was once a metaphor for how the lower and higher orders of Edwardian England lived (servants downstairs, masters upstairs). Today, it’s a literal rendition of the daily grind of workers at our most elite universities.

After five months of agitation, including the threat of a rally and support from undergraduates and graduate students who are organizing their own union, University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer has at last issued a statement reversing the policy: “Let me state in the simplest of terms what the policy actually is: the elevators are for everybody’s use.”

So I ask you: If this is what it takes for workers at an elite American university to be able to use an elevator—a university that is very much in the public eye and thus susceptible to public pressure—what must it take for workers around the country, in small factories and far-off hamlets, to secure their basic rights and privileges?

That is a question I wish our academic theorists of democracy would think some more about.

While we’re on the topic of unions and universities, there was this salutary report from Inside Higher Ed the other day:

The authors of a paper released this year surveyed similar graduate students at universities with and without unions about pay and also the student-faculty relationship. The study found unionized graduate students earn more, on average. And on various measures of student-faculty relations, the survey found either no difference or (in some cases) better relations at unionized campuses.


The paper (abstract available here) appears in ILR Review, published by Cornell University.


“These findings suggest that potential harm to faculty-student relationships and academic freedom should not continue to serve as bases for the denial of collective bargaining rights to graduate student employees,” says the paper, by Sean E. Rogers, assistant professor of management at New Mexico State University; Adrienne E. Eaton, a professor of labor studies and employment relations at Rutgers University; and Paula B. Voos, a professor of labor studies and employment relations at Rutgers.



Much of the study focuses on student-faculty relations, and whether—as union critics fear—the presence of collective bargaining turns a mentoring relationship into an adversarial one. The graduate students were asked to respond to a series of statements about their professors as a measure of how they perceived their relationships. On many issues, there were not statistically significant differences. But on a number, the differences pointed to better relations at unionized campuses. Unionized graduate students were more likely than others to say their advisers accepted them as professionals, served as role models for them and were effective in their roles.


We often hear how liberals belong to the reality-based community and conservatives to the faith-based community. But given how resistant tenured faculty—including the most liberal—are to findings like these, perhaps we should revise our sense of who belongs where.

{ 103 comments }

1

Anderson 10.09.13 at 7:45 pm

because the University of Chicago has had a policy of forbidding workers from using the elevators in this building … during daytime hours

SERIOUSLY? Wow. Explains their economics, anyway.

2

Glen Tomkins 10.09.13 at 8:05 pm

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

3

Brett 10.09.13 at 8:19 pm

I agree, that sounds pretty stupid. How are they moving cleaning equipment between floors, for example? Are they dragging it up the stairs every day, or do they only clean at night?

In any case, it sounds like some overly officious idiot in the Facilities Department not realizing that it would be better just to make an exception to the rule. Hell, escort them up in the elevator if you’re that worried about what they might get up to in there.

4

William Timberman 10.09.13 at 8:25 pm

I forget who said this to me, or how many years ago they said it. It might even have come from my father, who was both a career army officer, and an aspirant intellectual — who took it as an article of faith that whatever puzzled him about the world could be untangled by reading lots of books. Anyway, to paraphrase:

The last bastions of feudalism in the United States are the military and academia.

A quaint formulation in our era no doubt, when feudalism appears to be the new black, but in the lingering twilight of the New Deal, it made a lot of sense.

5

Corey Robin 10.09.13 at 8:45 pm

I like that, William, the whole formulation, what it meant then and now.

6

Chaz 10.09.13 at 8:58 pm

Brett, I think you may be missing the point. There is no restriction on where the servants may enter and no security concerns. The rule is for servants to stay out of sight. The rule was put in place because the upper class people who run the university do not want to have to look at or talk to poor people. They consider poor people to be unaesthetic. That is it.

The facilities manager is himself one of the servants, essentially the butler of an Edwardian manor. If he were to make an exception he risks the tradesman being in the elevator at the same time as the masters. As soon as the master saw the servant in his presence he would be enraged and blame the manager. He would not care at all whether there was a “good reason” for the servants to be allowed into the presence of their betters; he would not even know the reason, because he wouldn’t ask.

As for the cleaning, yes, they do it at night. They must stay out of sight.

7

lemmy caution 10.09.13 at 9:03 pm

“In any case, it sounds like some overly officious idiot in the Facilities Department not realizing that it would be better just to make an exception to the rule. “

Places with stupid rules are often strict in the enforcement of these rules. Any bending of a stupid rule is rightly seen as challenge to the stupid rule. Because, the rule is stupid.

8

Corey Robin 10.09.13 at 9:05 pm

Re that proverbial facilities department manager: This has been a policy for years at the U of C and it was defended most recently in writing by the university’s Director of Labor Relations. I often find the Director of Labor Relations on any campus is usually the third most powerful person on campus — after the president and whoever the finance guy (or gal) is.

9

Niall McAuley 10.09.13 at 9:09 pm

what must it take for workers around the country, in small factories and far-off hamlets, to secure their basic rights and privileges?

Anywhere less rotten with class privilege (which is more or less everywhere else), it would never have occurred to a locksmith to ask permission to use the lift.

10

Corey Robin 10.09.13 at 9:13 pm

Niall: How familiar are you with the American workplace?

11

MB 10.09.13 at 9:48 pm

Aside from aesthetics,stupid rules can be a powerful means of maintaining control over others for underlings. One more tool in the bag for “reviews” and “evaluations” that often have nothing to do with merit or quality.

12

MB 10.09.13 at 9:50 pm

correction for above post – a powerful means of maintaining control over underlings.

13

Niall McAuley 10.09.13 at 9:59 pm

Corey, there’s just one?

14

Niall McAuley 10.09.13 at 10:00 pm

More seriously: not at all familiar.

15

Brett 10.09.13 at 10:06 pm

How familiar are you, Corey? Have you worked for an extended period of time outside of Academia?

16

maidhc 10.09.13 at 10:08 pm

Edwardian mansions had special stairways for servants so they could move about the place without being seen. The University of Chicago doesn’t have service elevators?

Apart from their function in keeping the help apart from the gentlefolk, service elevators are usually designed for larger and heavier loads than a passenger elevator, which can be a useful thing. How did the President’s large mahogany desk get to his office?

17

matt 10.09.13 at 10:08 pm

“The last bastions of feudalism in the United States are the military and academia.”

To the extent this is true, I think it’s one of the selling points of both institutions: insulation from market forces. My naval neighbors have free daycare, subsidized housing, etc. I know higher ed work appeals to me in part because I don’t want to work 9-5 (one works hard alright, but at all sorts of unpredictable and flexible hours), report to a supervisor (one is mostly held accountable by one’s colleagues), compete for promotions (once you get tenure), get ‘evaluated’ in terms of ‘the bottom line’ or as a ‘value proposition,’ etc. Of course there are dysfunctional and coercive versions of this sort of ‘feudalism’, but it can be nice work if you can get it.

18

John Glover 10.09.13 at 10:08 pm

I remember when I first moved to NY for a job at one of the white shoe law firms being shocked at the fact they had separate bathrooms for the partners and associates.

The one time I was permitted to enter the partner’s bathroom was so the partner could continue barking instructions to me through the stall door while he was sitting on the pot.

As far as I know, those days still haven’t changed….

19

Brett 10.09.13 at 10:10 pm

Sorry, that was a stupid comment. I retract it, particularly since I hate that line of criticism when I see it used elsewhere.

20

ben wolfson 10.09.13 at 10:25 pm

Are comments 9, 10, 13, 14, 15, and 19 directly lifted from an earlier thread here?

21

geo s 10.09.13 at 10:26 pm

The segue from locksmiths to unionized graduate students is interesting because it draws out distinctly the class line running through a campus: were graduate students also forbidden to ride the elevator? It’s certainly possible they were forbidden (which would be interesting,) but it is more likely that they were permitted. Do locksmiths and grad students have class solidarity?

Having been a unionized grad student, a departmental steward, and a staff member at the local, I will say that imagining them as a member of the proletariat laboring in the academic salt mines truly misunderstands the role of graduate students at a research university. They really do fit nicely into the category of “management trainee,” regardless of their union cards. Simply put: graduate student employment is markedly temporary and every grad student proceeds with the ambition to graduate into a role of authority (with accompanying bourgeois lifestyle) either in academia or business. The “solidarity” between the academic unions and the trade unions on a university campus is tenuous indeed, and for professorial unions mostly absent. Take away the class ambitions of the grad student, and you take away much of the graduate student body. Take away the temporary and aspirational nature of grad student employment and you take away that student body.

But it also illustrates the grand confusion amongst the academic left about where their place is vis a vis “class warfare.”

22

Shelby 10.09.13 at 10:45 pm

Corey:

Niall’s right, in my experience. Which is not vast but is varied, in multiple industries, in multiple states, as both minion and … well, not master exactly, but not-minion. (Including, per John Glover, as an attorney in firms large and small.) There have been unspoken rules about not speaking up unless asked, but not about who can use the elevators. Or bathrooms.

23

Dr. Hilarius 10.09.13 at 11:39 pm

Never having attended an elite university, only the University of Washington and University of New Mexico, I’ve never run into such snobbery. The earlier posters are certainly correct that the rules are there to keep the working stiffs (what with their work clothes and work-worn hands) out of sight. I mean, what if you ended up sharing an elevator with a locksmith, what would you say? “Good afternoon, how are you? would occur to me but, as I said, I have no experience with the elite.

24

etv13 10.09.13 at 11:50 pm

I spent fifteen years in the Washington D.C. office of a white shoe law firm, and everybody, including the secretaries and the guys from the mailroom, used the same bathrooms. I work in a commercial building now, and I see the maintenance guys on the elevators at least a couple of times a week.

25

Jonathan Mayhew 10.10.13 at 12:06 am

I remember taking a service elevator at an upscale hotel with my father who was visiting me, by accident. There was an African-American janitor in the elavator, and a snooty rich white woman got on, also by accident, and made a face and asked whether this was the service elevator in a kind of nasty way. The custodian was gracious throughout our descent, but in a very ironic way, in that he kept saying that everything was ok, implying that he didn’t mind her (and us) sharing his service elevator. It was pretty funny.

26

Niall McAuley 10.10.13 at 12:25 am

The real question is whether this was a wannabee AC elevator or a genuinely upper-crust Edison DC job.

27

Corey Robin 10.10.13 at 12:31 am

Shelby at 21: “There have been unspoken rules about not speaking up unless asked, but not about who can use the elevators. Or bathrooms.” I don’t know much about elevator use, but the research on the rules of bathroom usage suggest otherwise.

28

adam.smith 10.10.13 at 12:41 am

but the research on the rules of bathroom usage suggest otherwise.

do you have a link? That sounds interesting (if depressing.)

29

adam.smith 10.10.13 at 12:41 am

(gated links are fine if need be)

30

Niall McAuley 10.10.13 at 12:54 am

I actually know a guy who once worked in a hoity-toity NY building working the elevator, with the “what floor sir” and so on. Of course, that was in the 80s, and there were no buttons, he just poked a charred bone into a dead tapir.

31

bjssp 10.10.13 at 1:28 am

Who’s more wary of grad student unions on college campuses, the professors or the administrators? Even if it’s more of the former than one might assume, I have to believe there are enough professors sympathetic to unions that they’d give them support.

32

Brian E 10.10.13 at 2:24 am

I always thought that elevators in short buildings were there for ADA compliance. How can a building be compliant if all people are not allowed to use it?

Not being a lawyer or having any connection to prestigious academia, this is a phenomenon I’ve never heard of. I’m a habitual stairclimber – some elevators leave me dizzy – but I’ve routinely seen facilities workers using elevators, especially since they’re often carrying heavy tools. Most hotels I stay in don’t have service elevators either, so I sometimes end up jammed in an elevator with a couple of employees with cleaning carts.

As far as cleaning being done at night, that only makes sense. Vacuum cleaners are loud and disruptive. Cleaning chemicals can have obnoxious perfumes that act as irritants for people with breathing problems. Public spaces are hard to clean while people are using them.

33

Atticus Dogsbody 10.10.13 at 2:24 am

@Niall: It’s still like that in Australia except we don’t have any tapirs. We use sugar gliders.

34

Corey Robin 10.10.13 at 2:34 am

Adam.Smith: Mark Linder and Ingrid Nygaard wrote two books on the topic (see first two links). I summarized some of their research from the first book — which only takes us through the early 90s, before there was a federal rule on the books about this — in a piece I did for the Boston Globe, which is the third link.

http://www.amazon.com/Void-Where-Prohibited-Urinate-Company/dp/0801433908/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1381372301&sr=8-1&keywords=void+where+prohibited

http://www.amazon.com/Void-where-prohibited-revisited-bathroom-break/dp/0971959404/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1381372301&sr=8-3&keywords=void+where+prohibited

http://coreyrobin.com/2012/03/08/lavatory-and-liberty-the-secret-history-of-the-bathroom-break/

35

LFC 10.10.13 at 2:48 am

@Dr Hilarius
Never having attended an elite university, only the University of Washington and University of New Mexico, I’ve never run into such snobbery.

I’m speculating, of course, but the snobbery here may well have been a result more of the personal snobbery of certain administrators than of the institution. (I have no first-hand knowledge of U. of Chicago.)

A kind of reverse snobbery, at least in small things, used to characterize certain ‘elite’ institutions. E.g. in forms of address: professors were “Mr. so-and-so” (when most of the professoriate was male), not “professor so-and-so” and certainly not “doctor so-and-so” (unless one was a medical doctor or a certain foreign-policy advisor/official to Nixon). This particular example is dated, but the impulse may survive in other forms, though I’m not sure in what forms exactly.

36

StevenAttewell 10.10.13 at 2:54 am

geo s at 21 –

I think you’re going waaaay too far in your analysis, and I say that as a unionized grad student, head steward, and former staff member at a local.

Grad students are indeed temporary labor, but that puts them in the same category as many workers who are seeing the ongoing casualization of the labor force, not management trainees. That might have been the case 20 or 30 years ago, but these days we’re future adjuncts – i.e, contingent laborers who make up 70% of the instructional workforce, who get paid an average of $2,987 per three-credit course, 79% of whom don’t get health insurance from their employer and 86% of whom don’t get pensions.

I don’t know how solidarity work at your campus works, but here at the UC, we’ve been in a permanent coalition (the UC Union Coalition) with all the trade unions on campus for years and years. My grad student union has fought like hell to keep the right to observe picket lines in our contracts so that we can keep up solidarity with our brothers and sisters in other union locals on campus (even though they don’t have the same right in their contract). We collaborate all the time on university governance issues, lobbying the legislature, etc.

37

Gene O'Grady 10.10.13 at 3:29 am

I think Stanford counts as an elite university. When I worked for the facilities (blue shirts) department at the Medical Center, I became a good friend of the manager of the shops. One of the things I once talked to him about was how the professionals treated his staff (and him, for that matter). He told me that the medical students, the residents, and the senior physicians had always been fine, but that the young doctors who were full of themselves were almost always snippy or worse with his workers. The nurses who actually did nursing were almost always OK as long as the guys (sorry, almost no women) were polite — not an unreasonable expectation, but not always met — while some of the management nurses were capable of being quite petty and hostile.

One of my interesting experiences in this position was convincing the leaders of the crafts, particularly in HVAC and some electricians, that had anything of value to offer to them. Eventually succeeded, which was more than I could say for some of the engineers.

38

John Quiggin 10.10.13 at 3:48 am

In Oz, the unions are on the ropes as everywhere else, but we do at least have one union for the entire industry, professors, TAs, admins and all. There are exceptions: trades workers like electricians would probably be in trade unions rather than the industry union, but there’s no real notion that academics shouldn’t be in a union, except among those who think no one should be in a union.

39

Shelby 10.10.13 at 3:54 am

Corey@34:

Thanks for the links. I read your article, though not the books. ;-)

My personal experience, which includes light industry factory work, has not included any such limitations on restroom use. I’ve also done plaintiff-side wage and hour litigation in California, and found most of the complaints relate to overtime and abuse of lunch break requirements; I haven’t encountered any complaints about actual denial of restroom use. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, of course, but at least in California it is absolutely not rife.

40

Scott 10.10.13 at 3:59 am

Damn, I’m going to lie awake tonight, sleeplessly wondering what it is that Gene O’Grady convinced them had something of valuye to offer them. Management? Art?

41

js. 10.10.13 at 4:01 am

“The last bastions of feudalism in the United States are the military and academia.”

To the extent this is true, I think it’s one of the selling points of both institutions: insulation from market forces. My naval neighbors have free daycare, subsidized housing, etc.

It is indeed a sweet deal for the liege. Fewer and fewer of them around these days tho (tenured profs, I mean, and relative to the other employment categories).

42

js. 10.10.13 at 4:13 am

Given that my last comment probably sounds a bit flippant, by way of brief explanation:

My first thought on reading CR’s last sentence in the post was something along the lines of:

Yes! But it’s just this dumb quasi-feudal understanding of the student-prof (or -”mentor”) relationship, and it’s a total disaster.

But then I saw that WT @4 had said it much better. Obviously, there’s something quite excellent about insulation from market forces. If such insulation were to exist. Sadly, it doesn’t. Or, it does for the fewer and fewer who can in fact cushy positions, while precisely those same market forces make such positions increasingly unavailable. So yeah, total disaster.

43

Harold 10.10.13 at 4:54 am

The division between “management” and worker is highly artificial.

44

adam.smith 10.10.13 at 5:42 am

thanks Corey – that is interesting stuff. It is a bit different from the “different bathroom” question, though – sadly, I find the ‘no bathroom breaks’ part easier to believe. I’m not saying the separate bathrooms or “no staff on the elvator rules – don’t exists – they clearly do – but at least to my intuition they would seem more alien to the modern capitalist workplace than not letting people go at all.

45

rw 10.10.13 at 7:35 am

Not surprising, this unspoken class discrimination pervades the University of Chicago. The University has fought for over a century to keep Hyde Park relatively white and wealthy despite the surrounding neighborhoods (and when the levy temporarily breached in the mid-twentieth century, the University spearheaded a campaign to drive the minority population out of the neighborhood). It is a bastion of regressive economics yet if you go a few blocks west you hit one of the most blighted neighborhoods in the entire country.

I imagine this sort of upstairs/downstairs charade goes on at most elite universities, but I think the specific context of the University of Chicago makes it particularly interesting.

46

bad Jim 10.10.13 at 7:39 am

I have a bathroom anecdote which may not be entirely on point. My company was generally rather democratic, our factory had three pairs of each, and norms weren’t, as far as I could tell, strictly policed. One day what might be described as the executive restroom started to flood, and for some reason I, as one of the owners and a capable engineer, was tasked to handle the catastrophe. It wasn’t the first time I’d had to take care of a plumbing problem, and I don’t know why my partners, who would have perhaps been more capable of coping, weren’t called upon, but so it goes.

Someone had taken a giant dump, and followed it with an enormous mass of tissue, which wouldn’t go down the drain. People are for whatever reason shamed by what their bodies do, and excretion is perhaps considered marginally more shameful than copulation. In any even I was faced with a blocked toilet spilling water, and dug my hands in to extricate the offending mass and plopped it into a waste container, which one of our key technicians promptly took outside for disposal (which has always left me wondering why he couldn’t just do what I did himself). Then I washed my hands, which is a skill I learned as a child.

47

bad Jim 10.10.13 at 7:52 am

I guess what I’m saying is that sometimes there’s a downside to the managerial track.

48

Michael Kochin 10.10.13 at 8:05 am

The main reason to keep tradesmen out of the elevator is to make sure they don’t damage the elevator or leave a mess behind. Service elevators, you may have noticed, frequently have padding to protect them from workmen’s loads.
(Full disclosure: I am a graduate of the University of Chicago. When I taught freshmen at Yale, one of them called me an “elitist.”)

49

ajay 10.10.13 at 10:44 am

“The last bastions of feudalism in the United States are the military and academia.”
To the extent this is true, I think it’s one of the selling points of both institutions: insulation from market forces. My naval neighbors have free daycare, subsidized housing, etc.

I am reminded of (I think) Wesley Clark’s anecdote of being amazed – after a life spent as a service brat and serviceman – that civilians didn’t get routine medical checks annually as a matter of course. The armed forces, he said, were “a little piece of Sweden in a nation that is rapidly turning into Brazil”.

50

bjk 10.10.13 at 11:29 am

I heard that while these two were locked out of the elevator, illegal aliens partied on the quad. Anybody else hear that?

51

Alex 10.10.13 at 11:44 am

The only vaguely comparable thing I can think of was actually in our still-nationalised-until-whenever-the-deal-closes post office – when I worked in a major distribution centre as an agency employee, it was always impossible to get into the canteen before the posties had eaten all the food. In practice this functioned as a colour-bar.

52

biz5th 10.10.13 at 12:24 pm

I worked at an insurance company where the mandatory badges were color-coded for job classification, and badge color determined which floors and wings of the office one could visit, etc. Then, suddenly, all of the badges were re-issued with the same color.

The good feeling lasted for about a day, until the story got around that someone (an upset ex-employee?) had threatened to shoot all of the executive level badges.

53

Elly 10.10.13 at 12:52 pm

When I was in school (public university in the Midwest US), I worked at the main campus library. Library staff were NOT allowed to use the public elevators. Student staff got an exception if we were moving book trucks between floors. Otherwise, we were required to use the stairwells. Regular staff had keys to the freight elevator and were expected to use that or the stairwells. It was made clear to us, in our job training, that we would be written up if we were caught using the public elevators.

So, this doesn’t surprise me even one little bit.

54

Elly 10.10.13 at 1:17 pm

Also! I currently work at another public university library, and there is a bathroom in the building that is pass code restricted. It’s supposed to be just for SLIS faculty, but some grad students have the access code and use it. I’ve never been inside, so I have no idea what secret world of rare and wondrous delights is contained within. I’m sure it’s fabulous, though. They might even have toilets that flush properly.

55

Rick Stuart 10.10.13 at 1:18 pm

Have you ever spent any time with any of the old school, upper faculty at the esteemed University of Chicago?? Or, even the “new school”. Like, sitting next to one of them at dinner? Some of them are fairly starched and ignorant of reality and not wanting to rub shoulders with said reality..it’s pretty scary. Doesn’t surprise me one bit thart this policy has existed..Some people need a knock upside the head.

56

cs 10.10.13 at 1:32 pm

Clarke and Lounsbury were told they had to haul their asthma and hip replacements up four flights of stairs

Sorry for being pedantic about an irrelevant point but: The fourth floor is usually up three flights of stairs.

57

Trader Joe 10.10.13 at 1:41 pm

@52
Since you’re being pedantic, that is correct at the University of Chicago, but in much of the world the ground floor is essentially floor zero and the 4th floor is in fact four flights of stairs up.

Which, when you think about it, makes a lot more sense from a numbering standpoint.

58

George 10.10.13 at 2:07 pm

One of my old managers told me that in his early days he’d worked in a building where the male and female restrooms were on alternate floors. He was working on a floor with female facilities but was aware the same floor also housed an executive suite with a bathroom that only the execs were allowed to use.

One day he couldn’t be bothered with the trip up and down stairs and so snuck into the exec washroom. Whether he was dazzled and confused by more polished and sculpted marble than he’d ever seen in his life or was just stressed by his little act of rebellion he doesn’t know, but he does recall being caught peeing in the sink.

59

Maria 10.10.13 at 2:29 pm

In the World Bank HQ in DC, only permanent employees are allowed to use the showers or car park. The many white-collar contractors who do much of the work – and without sick pay, holidays, health insurance, etc. – are forbidden. I asked why and was told it was because of too-high demand, and not ‘apartheid’. Why, then, I asked didn’t they manage demand with a waiting list or lottery that didn’t discriminate one class of employee from the others? No answer.

60

Gene O'Grady 10.10.13 at 2:54 pm

With apologies to Scott, I think the piece that did it was a write-up of just how much money they were responsible for managing, and saving, for the institution. These are guys who have it pounded into their head on a regular basis that they cost too much when the reality is quite the opposite. Another big item is listening — but then I kept discovering that the craftsguys understood the systems better than the engineers — in fairness to whom, they had been pretty decimated over the years by some badly designed cost cutting.

Someone made a silly comment about workers damaging elevators with their carts. In my experience the workers are well aware of that as an issue and use good judgment. If for not other reason than (1) they’ll get blamed no matter who did it and (2) they’ll get to fix it.

61

ezra abrams 10.10.13 at 3:23 pm

I got my PhD at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, in The Bronx.
iirc, all of the students and faculty were white, asian, and a small number indian; the skilled staff (secretarys, plumbers, etc) were ethnic white – jewish, italian
The people who cleaned the floors were all black and hispanic

more or less the same at all the other major research institutions on the east coast that I am familiar with

And certainly at most office parks in boston that cater to the biotech/medical device/pharma industry, almost all the blacks are janitors…

iirc, about 4 years ago, the N Y Times ran the most amazing story about the multistory Bronx Country Courthouse – surely an epicenter of human misery and low incomes.
The elevators were not working, and it could take *several hours* to get up to the courtrooms
and judges were fining people for missing appointments
at the end of the story, it was noted that the judges and employees had a separate set of elevators, in the back of the building…and this had been going on for some time, and no one had the sense or the balls or the deceny to open even one of these employee elevators to the (largely black, hispanic) populace seeking justice…or at least, a way out of a bad marriage, or a bad arrest, or a bad landlord.

62

ezra abrams 10.10.13 at 3:26 pm

sorry, forgot to add: dinner at upscale resturant with faculty from UCLA
female prof says how wonderful her house cleaner is, and how her cleaner really likes working for her, and how her cleaner really doesn’t mind taking two buses and a two hour commute to come and clean the profs house..
Professors at major research institutions have incomes well above 100,000 dollars a year; although they are considered servants by the rich, they consider themselves haughtily part of the upper class

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Patrick 10.10.13 at 3:27 pm

This is a case wherein the original source of the policy may not be quite so class-based as it appears on its face.

Freight elevators typically don’t look like personnel elevators for a reason. The floors are typically spill-resistant, the walls are unadorned, and generally the idea is “move stuff from one floor to another where that stuff may caustic, sharp, long, unwieldy, etc.” Personnel elevators have cosmetic protrusions, carpeting, all sorts of much-more-difficult-to-maintain-than-their-freight-counterpart features.

It would surprise me not at all if, sometime in the distant past, somebody spilled bleach on an elevator somewhere on campus and some supervisor got yelled at by some privileged faculty… and instead of politely asking said faculty to calm down, the supervisor instituted a policy of “all workers stay out of the elevators that faculty use, because I don’t like getting yelled at.”

The end result is the creation of a class structure taken to absurdities in this case, because of the lack of discretion. But the problem is likely the lack of discretion on the part of the workers’ supervisor (who rightly should have said, in the first place, “Go ahead and use the elevator and if anybody gives you crap about it, send them to me.”) more than it is the general policy – which, to be clear, is grounded in a reasonable principle (please take care of the nice elevators, because fixing them is expensive).

This is probably more symptomatic of an inability of organizations to have decent middle management than it is a case of the upper crust gone crazy.

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Zamfir 10.10.13 at 4:21 pm

More anecdote: once upon a time, I had a TA job at a naval academy. They had a pass system that determined which doors you could open, and you had to wear these passes in sight. For some reason, they had run out of my type of passes, so I got a paspartout.

Apparently, those were normally only given to Important People. So the whole academy would look at my scruffy civilian clothes, try to mentally place me in the hierarchy, then notice the Really Important Keypass. People a hundred yards in front of me would pause to hold open doors for me, conversation were politely halted around me, it was bizarre.

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donquijoterocket 10.10.13 at 4:47 pm

@William #4- You speak as if career military officer and intellectual aspirant were mutually exclusive. This is not true of the best officers. You also did not say when this statement was made. The modern military, to the best of my knowledge, considers itself a corporation. The statement might be true of academia which has held onto all sorts of ancient beliefs if for no other reason than to preserve them as esoteric niches for research ,study , and teaching.

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lemmy caution 10.10.13 at 5:10 pm

There were no freight elevators so rules that are appropriate for places with freight elevators don’t really apply do they.

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emjaybee 10.10.13 at 6:32 pm

This reminds me of the bit in Chuck Jones’ memoir where he talks about what a horrible person Leon Schlesinger was (racist, ignorant, abusive). Schlesinger’s office upstairs had a very fancy restroom which no one else was allowed to use. Given the times, this went double for anyone who wasn’t white. But nearly every night, the janitor, an aging black man, would calmly go upstairs and spend a long time in the sacred john..Jones speculated that he was napping there…before finishing up his duties and going home. No one ever told on him; all delighted in the idea of Schlesinger not knowing who else had been sitting on his forbidden throne.

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Barry 10.10.13 at 8:04 pm

“The last bastions of feudalism in the United States are the military and academia.”

Actually, in the sense that this was meant, that’s not true. There’s some guy named ‘Corey’ who has written about this quite extensively, and linked to more material.

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