Within an institution of higher education the only permanent and lasting assets (excluding its renown and reputation) are its physical assets - the buildings and grounds. And except for those institutions known as "universities without walls," this applies to all colleges and universities.
Campus facilities should be viewed as a valued asset that contribute in numerous ways to the university's mission. Facilities are the single largest asset on the institution's budget balance sheet. Facilities provide a location for instruction, lectures, forums, and workshops. Facilities house laboratories and scientific equipment necessary to conduct research and experimentation. Facilities offer spaces to conduct business and perform workday tasks. Facilities are where meetings are held and planning is accomplished. Facilities accommodate rehearsals and practice sessions as well as performances, recitals, and concerts. Facilities afford food and lodging, recreation and entertainment.
Facilities generate first impressions. Facilities can offer a diversity or continuity of design, construction, and usage. Facilities are used to advance teaching and learning. Facilities accommodate the discovery of knowledge and the creation of new products. Facilities are instrumental in attracting new staff, faculty, researchers, and students. Facilities accommodate a wide variety of programs and disciplines. Facilities promote and enhance the quality of life. Facilities provide a place to gather and make new friends. Facilities offer sustenance for the body, mind, and spirit. Facilities create a sense of place and bring to pass memories.
College and university campuses are both functionally and physically unique. In the communities where they are located, campuses emphasize high and noble endeavors while at the same time serving as a showplace for the most successful of built environments. The campus has the potential to be a direct reflection of an institution's history, mission, and accomplishments, as well as its aspirations and vision for the future. The various elements of the campus - its green spaces and gathering spots, its individual buildings and groupings of buildings, its malls and pathways, its landscaping and common areas - unite together to reveal the institution's past, present, and future.
Even as the physical assets of the campus reveal the purpose and objectives toward which an institution aspires, the appearance and condition of its buildings and grounds can also be a reflection on its reputation. If an institution is judged by its outward appearance, certainly the condition and appearance of its facilities can determine the relative competitiveness of one institution as compared to another. For an institution that wants to be known as one of quality, one that cares about its faculty, staff, and students, it makes good financial sense that its physical assets be maintained with an eye to both the present and to the future.
Even though the organization that plans, constructs, operates, and maintains the buildings and grounds is known by different names at colleges and universities, within the wide-ranging facilities industry the term "facilities management" is commonly used. Facilities management is a distinct management function and, as such, it involves a well-defined and consistent set of responsibilities. Simply stated, it is the management of a vital asset - the organization's physical facilities or its physical plant.
Within the field of facilities management the organization is expected to combine proven management practices with the most current technical knowledge to provide comfortable, functional, and effective working environments. Within higher education this must also include the provision of an appropriate teaching and learning environment. The central threads of "quality of life" and "cost effectiveness" run strongly through the technical components of the profession. Usually, facilities managers are the "generalists" who manage a variety of "specialists." The "specialists" are either in-house staff or outsourced service providers who perform the day-to-day tasks of facilities management. Facilities management as a profession has evolved over time. When buildings were relatively simple, most facilities-related tasks could be accomplished by individuals possessing limited skills and training. Their tool kit consisted of an oil can, a screwdriver, and an adjustable wrench. As buildings and their operating systems became more complex, so did the technical expertise needed to operate and maintain their systems and components.
I recall an article that appeared in the local newspaper several years ago that caught my attention. The story line read, "Job of the 90s: Facility Manager," and the subtitle added "Coordinator of the Workplace." I thought to myself that finally our profession was getting its deserved recognition. But as I read the article my initial enthusiasm was somewhat blunted as it went on to say, "For years, it was the job that had no name. Janitors did it. So did building supervisors, secretaries, and human resource directors. Sometimes real estate agents, architects, interior designers, and even financial officers handled the myriad of responsibilities of the job." Obviously, times have changed.
To the average person, the existence of a facilities management operation is relatively unknown. As long as things are operating in a "normal" condition no one seems to notice those who come and go on a daily basis; they are typically not conscious of the full range of efforts required to maintain a trouble-free environment day-in and day-out. To a great degree, the work categorized as facilities management happens without a great degree of visibility. Much of the effort takes place behind the scenes - in an equipment room, above the ceiling, on the roof, or otherwise out of sight. Some tasks are even accomplished "off-shift" via a computer.
When Lee A. Iacocca was chairman of Chrysler Corporation, he made the following observation:
It (facilities management) already is a useful tool for strategic
planning because planning today involves the expenditure of
billions and billions of dollars. You don't spend that kind of money
unless you're confident that the facilities you're building with it
can be managed efficiently, provide a return on your investment
over time and do the competitive job you intend them to do.
(Facility Design and Management magazine, October 1989).
While the magnitude and types of facilities found within institutions of higher education may be different from those mentioned by Iacocca, parallel impacts can certainly be measured.
Employees within our own facilities management organizations can be justifiably proud of the part they play in helping their college or university achieve its goals and accomplish its mission. And just as facilities are vital assets to our institution, each employee within the facilities management organization is a vital asset to the department as well as to the institution.