• Home
  • About Us
  • Guest Posts

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Surprising Office Politics at UCSF Mission Bay (Updated 11/25)

Why does it cost too much to build offices for medical faculty in Mission Hall?

UCSF is one of the country’s great medical schools, and after hitting space limits at its main Parnassus campus in San Francisco, and scattering itself around town, it acquired a prime piece of land near the city’s central waterfront on which to build a new campus, called Mission Bay.  The first parcel of about 43 acres was acquired in 1996.  It was followed by 15 more acres in 2007 on which to build what will be UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay. The new campus’s first building, Genentech Hall, opened in 2003, and it has continued to grow ever since.  The aerial photo shows what a wonder the whole thing is.  The new campus is actually getting built, and you’d think that everyone would be jumping for joy.

Instead, the office design of the next new building has caused a major faculty outcry, and produced some of the bitterest faculty comments about a university policy that I have read.  The reason is that the 700 faculty--and 800 staff--slated to move to this state-of-the-art medical building in 2014 are not going to have offices. They are to work from open-floor low-rise cubicles instead.

I. Planning the Open Office

Let's set the scene with some pictures.  Here's the building in question, initially named after the block on which it sits, 25A. It is directly across the street from the Medical Center that is going in just to the south, in the foreground of the photo.

You can see the placement of this building on the campus, in red.

The office building is across the street from several hospitals to come.

Now let's go inside the building.  The floor plan (not shown) is "open office": all faculty desks will be located in an open central area. The open space will be combined with three configurations of "focus rooms" whose doors can be closed either for solitude or for meetings.  Here's one view, with a faculty workstation at center-left, a large meeting room to the right, and a smaller focus room straight ahead, shaded in yellow.

A second image also stresses circulation through the faculty workspace.

The faculty member appears to be looking at a meeting taking place in the focus room directly in front of him.  A food court is off to the right.  To his right is a cabinet that is his storage area.

Although all faculty will have access to the focus rooms on a first-come-first served basis, only heads of departments and other administrators will have private offices. In other words, this shadow professor is seated in his office.

Update 11/25: An administrative participant tells me that "Heads of departments, other administrators and the Chancellor will have work stations only--not private offices."

While staring at the plans, I came to focus on three features. One is a high-density use of interior space:  the workstations are lined up with their ends towards the windows, so that most of the workstations are away from them.  Some of the exterior walls are taken up with focus rooms, but most of these rooms lack exterior windows as well.

Second, the design puts sociability ahead of everything else.  A couple of decades ago the model might have been a newsroom, but the model here seems to be an architecture studio or Google-Genentech, where executives sometimes enthuse that the open office stimulates collaboration and creativity.  The researcher will not have dedicated individual space with enough privacy for work that "requires intense concentration," as one commentator put it.  Nor will clinicians be able to offer mandated privacy to patients at their desks.  Update 11/25: I have been told that all patient contact will occur "in outpatient building or hospital across the street," and that per consultation with UCSF's Privacy Office, "patient charting and phone calls can be done at the workstations."

Third, sociability is defined as circulability and transparency.  It looks as though everyone is supposed to be able to see everything in the workspace at all times. The focus rooms have doors that close and walls of glass. I am told that the UCSF chancellor will have an office in the new building, with walls for security purposes. But her walls will be made of glass as well. Update 11/25:  I am now told that, in spite of these illustrations and other testimony, all focus rooms will have "sound proof, dry plaster walls" and doors made out of frosted glass, so that "it should be possible to know that a privacy room is occupied but not by whom or how many."  In addition, the Chancellor and her staff are said to be destined for workstations as well, with a glass security wall.

The official concept is the Activity-Based Workplace.  It made a formal appearance at the Regents' Grounds and Buildings Committee meeting on November 13, 2012, where it was described as follows:
In this project, UCSF is introducing a new Activity-Based Workplace (ABW) model for office workspace. An ABW is characterized as an open work environment, without enclosed offices. This environment supported by a rich array of alternative work and support spaces (including enough small private meeting rooms and unassigned offices to be used when quiet space is necessary) that can be used spontaneously without prior reservation when spaces for private communications, undisturbed concentration, or meetings are required.
Shared open interaction spaces are provided for every two floors to create “Town Centers” and vertical circulation between floors. Coffee kitchens and a variety of meeting spaces are grouped around each of these interaction spaces to create opportunities for academic interaction,collaboration, innovation, and discourse in a relaxed and social setting. These spaces strongly promote a ‘sense of place’ within the building’s open workstation environment. (page 4)
This is the theory.  To learn more about the history and the practice, I reviewed as many documents as I could find and spoke to half-a-dozen UCSF faculty and administrators.  I told one I wanted to ask her how she felt about the plan to put faculty into cubicles.  "They aren't cubicles," she replied.
"Cubicles" means you have half-walls that give you visual privacy. This is like working in a library with a 18-inch separator--only without the quiet.
OK, we'll use their term, Activity-Based Workplace?
No, it's not an activity-based workplace. No one did a functional assessment of what faculty do in their offices, which in the case of these faculty is an especially wide range of different things. This is an occupancy-based design. It is designed to get a lot of people into a set space at a relatively low cost. People are going to have a variety of needs and none of these were taken into account.
This was one of the milder criticisms I heard from faculty members. The written record is quite a bit worse.

II. The Faculty Describe Workplace Needs

The UCSF Senate set up a web page to collect faculty comments on ABW. By May 8th, the pdf version ran to fifty single-spaced pages (pp 17-67).  They were classed into 10 categories.  I'm going to quote a selection of them, at more then the usual length, before offering some thoughts on why ABW has happened in Parts III and IV below.  I provide these extracts here, and encourage reading the others, because the working life of university professions is a widely misunderstood public issue.  Even in the wake of studies showing that faculty work 60-70 hours per week on average (see, e.g.,  "Good and Bad in the Teaching Report"), politicians and others regularly exploit the suspicion that in the normal sense faculty don't work much at all.  The UCSF faculty have done us all the service of providing detail about what they do during their working day.

Many faculty were frankly stunned at what they saw as the obvious lack of fit between the proposed faculty workspace and actual faculty activity.
This is a terrible idea, clearly designed by individuals who have no idea what faculty do. Unless the administration's goal is to reduce faculty numbers this cubicle space concept should be scrapped. (p 30 of 50)
or this:
The plan for the new Mission Bay office building is untenable and unworkable. We have been meeting to try to figure out how it can be used, since it was presented as a fait accompli, but it will not work. We are an academic institution. Those of us, 80% of my division, who are involved in research, both lab and clinical, have 4-8 hours per day of conference calls and meetings with mentees and collaborators. Those of us with more administrative positions have confidential meetings 2-4 hour per day with applicants, staff, residents, fellows, and medical center issues. We cannot be running in and out of offices or talking with even one other person in public small cubicles. We will not be able to recruit from outside UCSF for new faculty and researchers. It is not too late to redesign the inside of this building, which is still a hole in the ground. (p 2 of 50)
Many comments claimed that the open office would make compliance with HIPPA patient privacy law somewhere between inefficient and impossible. 
I'm afraid that having this office arrangement for our treating physicians creates an environment that exposes HIPAA (PHI) and personal effects (laptops, phones, etc.) to unauthorized use, including theft. I am not certain whether this arrangement is HIPAA compliant and/or complies with JAHCO regulations, which if it does not (i.e. JAHCO sees this and finds that it is a risk to HIPAA / PHI), could open the Hospital up to fines and/or loss of accreditation. (p 3 of 50)
Another of this type:
As a physician scientist I cannot imagine working in an environment with limited or no privacy. I handle confidential patient related issues in my office, I have numerous confidential discussions with the individuals in my lab or with house officers and fellows discussing patients on my service when I am attending, and of course I need quiet but accessible (for patient and staff conversations) private space for writing grants, reviewing data, composing and responding to email, making and taking phone calls often involving confidentiality issues.  (p 10 of 50)
As in this last case, most of the comments treated the core issue of work quality even when focused on something else.  Faculty felt that the open office would interfere with their work processes, hamper their creativity, and reduce their productivity.
After taking the virtual tour, it is hard for me to imagine a less conducive work environment. While we do thrive on collaborations and interactions with our peers, so much of the work that academic faculty perform requires a quiet and private space where focused writing and thinking can occur. Reading, reviewing, and writing grants and manuscripts, as well as a relatively quiet space to meet with a student, trainee, or colleague one on one for sensitive conversations is critical. In addition, participating on conference calls and WebExs, which are frequent occurrences in this era of national and international collaborations, will be challenging. As a faculty who prides itself on creativity and productivity, we must resist the latest business trends that suggest that these environments allow full productivity. If I were to be assigned an office here, I would likely be spending a lot more time in my house, working from home. (p 5 of 50)
Another example:
As a new faculty member and physician scientist, I can see how an open model withcubicles could foster collaborations. However, the role of a PI requires a balance between individual effort and collaborative effort. The majority of my time is spent meeting with trainees, reading, writing, meeting with collaborators, and managing my patients. Having a private office is critical to successfully completing all of these tasks since many of these conversations are confidential (ie patient care; feedback to a trainee; current lab strategies) or require concentration (ie grant writing especially in this environment.) Can you imagine having these types of conversations or spending all of our time in an environment like a coffee shop? 
The university must support its basic researchers as well as clinicians in order to support the long-term health and success of the institution. Having some areas with an open design is appropriate for fostering collaborations and interactions, particularly since we already have multiple campuses. Having dedicated space (ie an office) for faculty to concentrate is critical for successfully achieving and maintaining our high research, teaching, and clinical care goals. (pp 10-11 of 50)
I am an 80% clinical investigator. On most days, I spend 6-8 hours per day in my current office where I use the space to write grants, papers, and clinical trial protocols. I also use the space for conference calls and in-person meetings. None of these activities can be conducted in an open cubicle without either distracting me from writing activities or distracting those around me. I anticipate that I will need to be in one of the private "shared" rooms all day.  Moreover, I use my office to store specialized supplies and pathology slides that support my translational research program. I have concerns that I will not have a place to store these items securely. (pp 5-6 of 50)
Another comment from someone with experience in an open office:
I currently work in cubicle-land, and I like my colleagues. Yet even polite, low level conversations adjacent to my desk are highly distracting, especially during grant writing and paper revision work, when it takes time to get into a good flow. We can all agree that constant interruption is counter-productive. I will often work late evenings and weekends, or in the worst-case I will squat in other unoccupied workspaces to avoid unnecessary conversations. Being chased out of my personal work-space to get work done is non-ideal, as I lose printer access and reference materials, and I am visibly absent. If a model of anonymous shared space is adopted for faculty, this would represent a step down from a situation that is already difficult to tolerate. (p 14 of 50)
A comment emphasizing the place of individual needs and cognitive differences:
Something of great concern to me is that this plan does not appear to take into consideration the individual needs of faculty, but rather seems to be address us a homogenous group with very similar workstyles, activities, and privacy needs. I believe that faculty are a very diverse group of individuals with very different needs for privacy, quiet, etc. The issue of losing the ability to pump when working with a nursing child is but one critical individual need I see raised here that deserves a great deal of weight. Had I not had a semi-private office when my child was young I doubt I could have managed to keep up with pumping given the schedule I managed, and I know this to be true for others as well. This is but ONE example of a necessary activity that would be very difficult to maintain in the proposed environment. There are many others. Has there been consideration given regarding faculty members with cognitive differences relative to distraction and noise? How would anyone be able to accomplish anything at all if every movement or sound in the open space they share broke their focus? Would these people be housed differently than other faculty? How will the University accommodate members of our community who can't function in such an environment without excluding them? Besides these issues of potential discrimination, the comments other colleagues have shared contain reason enough to recognize that this proposal has many concerns for many different reasons, across the community. (p 15 of 50)
A comment linking work needs, routine overwork, and feeling disrespected by the decision:
I have just spent a typical day here at UCSF. I met with postdocs to mentor them, I met with the administrator and an RSC about the grant we're preparing to put in, I met with one of my research teams, and then another research team. Finally now, I'm alone. Thus, from this morning until now (6:15 pm), I have been in nonstop meetings, in my OFFICE. How will this work in the new space we're being forced into? Will I have to demand that I get one of of the offices? (that there are only 1 for every 4 people?). Moreover, I work all the time - on the weekends, evenings, and university holidays. I work really hard for my pay! And then I look again at the photos above and I think of the movie "9 to 5", with all the workers in cubicles, a sea of cubicles. In fact, when the main character got a raise, she moved to....yup, an office! And us, those of us who bring in the grants that keep the university going - #1? And we're being told, nope, you're being put into "open space" (not even cubicles). Y'know, it truly does not feel that the university cares about us. And there's just ongoing confirmation about this since no higher-ups are doing anything to help us. From department chair on up. No one cares. It feels really sad to me. I've put in many years here, bringing in lots of money. But no one cares.  (p 20 of 50)
And there's this rather direct statement:
The Mission Bay Academic Building, with its 'activity-based workplace' consisting of 40  foot cubicles, is an ill-conceived, wrong-headed misadventure that will deeply, possibly irrevocably, damage UCSF. Its design is based on the utterly misguided and totally untested notion that the working environments used by the electronics industry for teams of baccaulaureate-level technicians and engineers, working together on specific projects, is somehow translatable to university-based academic physicians. It's not. University-based academic physicians are more than mere 'providers'. We teach at multiple levels; students, residents, fellows, junior faculty, in addition to nurses and other ancillary medical personnel – but one cannot teach in a beehive. We write grants, papers, book chapters, manuscript reviews, grant reviews, evaluations and letters of recommendation — but one cannot be creative in a phonebooth. And we discuss patient care with patients, families and other healthcare professionals – but we cannot do this in a public venue. No study has been made of UCSF faculty activities and what space and environment is needed to facilitate essential functions. No solicitation for opinion or advice went to the faculty; this is being forced down our throats with the same foresight and dexterity as the aborted UCSF-Stanford merger, and will be equally successful. No other University or medical center has tried this; it is terra incognita, and we are setting sail without a map, a compass, provisions or leadership. 
We are regularly asked to attend meetings to fine-tune the way we will live in these rat cages, which is analagous to asking those on a slave ship whether they want to be chained to a starbord or portside bunk. This is not a mere a generational issue; it is not that older faculty cling to books and papers like middle-Americans clinging to their guns and religion. The paperless office is a fantasy that exists only on Star Trek; there are endless examples, from the need for original signatures to the vast amounts of literature that are not available on line. My work has been substantially assisted by my computer, but it cannot replace the trove of information at my fingertips in my files. 
It is my prediction that 1) talented younger faculty will be more readily recruited away by other Universities; 2) recruitments will be substantially more difficult, especially at the level of division chiefs, who need offices for their myriad duties; 3) productivity, especially in grants and peer-reviewed papers, will fall; 4) this 'experiment' will ultimately fail, costing UCSF substantial money and lost presige. It is difficult to envision a more effective tactic for reducing UCSF back to the rustic quaintness of Toland Medical College. This is not the way a great University treats a great faculty. (p 7 of 50)
A number of faculty saw the degradation of workspace and of their creative process as reducing UCSF's stature, leading to new problems of retaining and recruiting faculty.
At least for research faculty, it’s not just a matter of having to break into work and leave one’s desk to take a phone call from a patient, but it is also difficult to picture not being able to temporarily stop work to have a short private meeting with someone. Faculty would expect to be able to stay in their chair with their work in front of them, have someone come in and close the door, have a few words, and the person leaves. This is basic. Being able to lock my office is important to me. If I have a visitor, they can lock their bags in my office while they give their seminar or do other things. I can feel comfortable that my own possessions are not publicly accessible when I’m not there. If I am concentrating on writing grants or papers, I need to be able to close my door, have quiet, and still be in my own space. If I did not have an office, I would probably work from home except when I had meetings or other commitments.  When writing NIH grants, we are supposed to include a Facilities and Resources page in which an entire category is called Office. Writing that I have a cubicle or creative work space or whatever euphemism one wants to apply will make the study section members not take me seriously. Lastly, it all comes down to STATUS. If I get a phone call from a colleague at Stanford or Harvard, or from a Program Official at NIH, or from a prospective graduate student, and I have to tell them to hang on while I go find a private place for a phone call, they will assume I have low STATUS. I will not be taken as seriously by my peers or others with whom I need to deal professionally. That alone is a deal breaker. As part of an academic’s career progression, an office is one the basics that we assume we will obtain either in our first independent position or shortly thereafter. UCSF is notorious for taking longer than most places to do this, but to not do it at all would seriously shrink the number of good people who might otherwise take a faculty position here. Given the promise of a position without an office, basic research faculty will only come to UCSF as a last resort. (p 32 of 50)
By my rough count, faculty sentiment ran 100% against the ABW office format. There were some comments that made helpful suggestions for adapting. But the number that actively supported ABW was zero.

In sum, a brand new office building is planned for years and receives final regental approval, only to be overwhelming opposed by the affected faculty. Why did this happen? 

III. Explaining the Open Office Decision

One reason is that that administration, its planners, and its architects, thought that ABW was a very good idea.  They still think this. A participant told me that UCSF has been running into space constraints for years and years--many of the staff and faculty slated to be moved into what is now called Mission Hall are currently working in leased office buildings in various parts of the city, and the new buildings would allow them to be brought back to campus. But the extra space wouldn't last long with traditional offices.

This worry was crystallized by a decision to consolidate off-campus research units, which meant using Mission Hall not only to house staff who worked in the new hospitals across the street, but also the staff, mainly clinical and field researchers, being brought home from leased office space. The stakeholders planning committee did consider two other options -- traditional offices, and a hybrid design with offices and workstations, but rejected those for at least two reasons: the latter would create the "political nightmare" of deciding who did and who did not get an office, and neither plan allowed for growth.  The administration was concerned that it would spend $118 million on this new building (page 135) and be up against a space limit almost as soon as everyone actually moved in.   

The designers also saw the open office as creative and inspiring. Rather than describing it as a symptom of UCSF's decline, one told me, they thought the statement was, "UCSF is innovative."
We're doing something unusual. It's original. And we won't have the problem of faculty offices that are 50% unoccupied even during the day.  It would be a comfortable space with good light. I wouldn't call this decline. I would call it a step forward in how to steward university and public resources.
Responding to my question about whether he saw merit in the concerns about privacy and concentration in the open workspace, he replied,
I understand their concerns, and I would have them too. They've never worked in a design like this.  But the open space is like a library.  You do your ordinary work there. But you can answer a phone there. There's a noise-cancelling system in this space. You can't understand people who are 20 feet away from you. You can certainly answer phones in these spaces, have low-volume conversations in them.  Because other people are there, you have to build a culture of quiet.  In other professions, like architecture and law, they work beautifully. People keep them quiet, and they do most of their work there. If you want to have a consultation or write a grant, you can go into a focus room. There are 376 of these focus rooms in the building. There's one focus room for every four workstations. there will be roughly 700 faculty in the building, maybe 350 at any one time, plus another 700 or 800 staff.  So there should be no problem with anyone having a focus room at any time. They are ten feet away from the workstations. You can turn your head and find an empty one.

But [I interrupted] there's no wood door you can't see through, behind which you can bang your head against the wall or burst into tears or whatever your ritual is.

No that's not true.  You can close the door. And you can stay in there for a week to write a grant. You can do anything you want with those rooms--except turn them into private offices.

This particular conversation took place at the end of October, so I'm assuming that most if not all of the administration still feels that ABW is a good idea, and that once faculty try it, they'll like it.
A second source of the conflict between the open office plan and its faculty occupants surfaced a month after the Regental vote ratifying the academic building project.  On December 18, 2012, Divisional Senate Chair Robert Newcomer wrote to an associate dean in the School of Medicine that the Senate had not only not been consulted, but had been actively excluded from the planning.  
Despite repeated efforts by the Academic Senate Clinical Affairs Committee (CAC) starting in 2007, faculty concerns about the need for faculty office space and education space in the new hospital were not addressed.  CAC eventually learned that faculty offices and education space would be located in a separate building; however, the plan for the activity-based workspace was not discussed with CAC.
Meetings with faculty and departments were "information only," not iterative consultations, and came late in the process. . . .[W]e know that there were no meetings involving the Pediatrics faculty or its leadership about this issue until it was a fait accompli, and the meetings were just for information, not input.  One meeting told us about the existence of the activity-based workplace model a couple of months ago, and another meeting described its structure and function.
There was no "upstream engagement" with the future users of the building--neither with the faculty in the relevant units nor with the Academic Senate as such.  The administration's consultation was with the "stakeholders committee," but the term "stakeholder" is vague enough to allow avoidance of the kinds of early "iterative consultations" with actual faculty that shared governance requires.

One administrative participant told me that this committee did have faculty members, but none represented the Senate and all were in leadership posistions--deans and department chairs among others. He agreed that the Senate should have been involved, but that faculty have never been involved in building planning before. Space design is a specialty in its own right that deserves respect. "Medical faculty don't understand it," he said. "They don't live it day to day. You can't possibly get your arms around it. How can somebody running an NIH-funded lab think about space everyday? I hope they're aren't thinking about space."  But, he added, "We will now have the Senate participating."

Medical researchers aren't thinking about space every day, but they are doing their jobs every day in specific spaces. This produces the deep experience about office needs on display in the responses I cited above.  Early iterative consultation would not only have unveiled the objections but may have produced a better design, one that won't have to be "mitigated" at additional cost.

A third source of conflict was a perceived inequity between deluxe research facilities and cut-rate office space. One scientist remarked to me,
Although there’s as much money coming to this campus from clinical as from bench science research grants, this design treats clinicians as second-class.  The bench scientists have new facilities with all these huge private areas. People who deal with patients or do field research—where UCSF is a world leader—are being stuck in non private spaces where they will struggle to do their basic job. This is terrible planning from that point of view.  Obviously the campus really values basic science. The lovely space is a recruitment device.  People associate labs with the biotech industry and think well, we’re losing money now, but when funding gets better we’ll have a huge group in place to churn out intellectual property and profits.
This has been a standard way of thinking about academic science—that laboratories are an investment with a future upside, while instruction and clinical research are costs that the institution itself does not recover. I’ve critiqued this revenue model elsewhere, but even were it correct, ABW uniquely concretized an implied hierarchy and intensified faculty resentment.

Finally, a fourth source of the conflict between the building plan and faculty offices is money.  There are multiple problems here, and I'm going to scratch the surface and make some educated guesses.

UCSF has been adding a new campus, and there is continuous pressure on the budget to cover a $1.1 billion capital program, of which $926 million is non-state funded (p 136).  UCSF built more of Mission Bay more quickly than it had expected: the 1996 long-range development plan (LRDP) projected total costs of about $200 million in the first 16 years, and slower use of the maximum permitted square footage.  UCSF also has two major buildings on the Parnassus campus that need seismic retrofits amounting to rebuilds, along with other repair and maintenance issues. UCSF's medical enterprise generated nearly $2 billion in gross revenues in 2011-12, and UC's immediate past president often praised "our medical business" as making money while the campuses were allegedly losing it. But this revenue comes with many costs, including the restart of employer pension contributions and other rising costs.  The campus ran $288 million in the black in 2011-12 (comparing Schedules A and D), but I am told that internal ten-year projections show UCSF's operations budget falling into the red by 2015 and staying there through 2021.

IV.  Limits of the Business Model

In January 2012, Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellman warned the Regents that UCSF costs were rising faster than revenues, and in the process tried to claw back some of the $49 million administrative tax her campus was to send to UC's Office of the President.   In a statement that you can watch at the link above, the chancellor described a highly complex business model in perpetual adaptation to a super-competitive medical marketplace.

Is the model fragile as well? That was my sense as I listened to the chancellor and then read quite a few capital projects documents (with valuable help from my non-UC research assistant Jessica Cronin).  The medical center sounds like it has low or at least unpredictable margins that could flip from black to red with a few changes in the policy environment.  Hospital revenues are an important source of capital projects funding: they are on the hook for $1.1 billion of UC's 2011-2021 capital projects (page 20). Construction funds, in short, are limited by the perpetual need to maintain reserves against both anticipated shortfalls and demand for construction funds.  One person told me, "seismic retrofits and other costs have chewed up the chancellor's reserves. She has lost a lot of leeway just when she needs it." ABW was being considered as the campus was looking not only to cover rising costs but also to rebuild reserves.
Of equal importance is the fact that UC capital projects are increasing underfunded from the start.   UCOP got 18% of need for state-eligible capital projects in the current year and is looking for 27% for next year (pages 7-9).  For 2011-2021, UCOP expects state resources to fund 33% of all UC capital projects (page 6).  Two-thirds of building costs need to come from somewhere other than the state, even for these state-eligible projects, and a growing share of UC construction is not state eligible. UCSF’s Mission Hall is one of these non-state projects.

UCSF's long range development plan for Mission Bay originally drew on UCSF working capital and Medical Center Reserves (together supporting 40% of costs in one period), external debt financing (another 32%), plus "novel, non-traditional sources" of income, including revenues from private-sector building tenants.  The latter will come only if empty space is reserved for them, putting permanent pressure on faculty space.

In addition, the overall UC funding model assumes continuous, large-scale fundraising campaigns.  Gifts are to provide around $2.1 billion of UC’s overall ten-year capital projects, in a budget where the state share is $4.8 billion (and where borrowing comes to around $4.7 billion). Fundraising was an issue for Mission Hall, according to one participant:

The problem is we have a hospital across the street where we have enormous fundraising activity going on. We're still $500 million in need there. We have the Sandler Neurosciences Building that we need another $100 million for--that's already up and occupied. We have another building called the Diller Cancer building and there's need there. So we have a lot of fundraising going on. For that reason we never planned to support this academic building with philanthropy.

UCSF philanthropy has a long record of success. But the campus has so many structurally underfunded capital projects that donor programs can potentially crowd each other out. A gift that funds a portion of a named building, as most do, can start a scramble to cover the rest of the costs with further gifts, external borrowing, and further demands for campus funds. At the very least, this system puts a hard cap on the size and quality of buildings that are too far down the status ladder to attract gifts—like an academic office building.  (Interestingly, official projects don’t expect gifts to make much contribution to UCSF’s capital projects (chart at left, page 21).  I can’t explain this very small number.)

Given this context, it’s reasonable to treat denser Mission Hall occupancy as both a cost-cutting and a revenue strategy, and to see ABW as a way of delivering on both sides of the ledger.

There’s a further wrinkle to the “occupancy-based” design.  Faculty based in the adjacent hospitals were always slated for the new building. Research groups in leased off-campus space are now being moved in as well.  One staff member put it to me this way:

Some of the groups going in need to be near the new hospitals. Some are there for reasons we don’t know.  My guess is that it has something to do with increasing the IDC [indirect costs rate].  If a research unit is off campus, the campus receives only 26% as the rate.  If the unit is on campus, the campus recovers double the IDC—the rate is over 50%. It’s true that there’s no rent on campus and that an off-campus UCSF research unit has to pay rent on the non-UCSF office space.  But rent is always less, usually a lot less, than the extra 26% or 27% that is deducted from an on-campus grant.  Also, rent is controlled by the faculty PI [principal investigator], and IDC are controlled by the administration.

I know the administration says that rents are skyrocketing and they don’t want us to have to pay them. But there’s a lot of leasing going on the new buildings- the new neurosciences building is leased. I think they’re not trying to reduce leased space, they’re trying to recover another big piece of IDC that will go directly to the administration and rebuild reserves.

Setting aside its impact on faculty and staff, ABW has a sound budgetary logic for the UCSF administration, since putting formerly off-campus faculty in open offices puts an extra IDC revenue slug into oversubscribed campus funds.  Reserving IDC revenues for overall campus needs rather than for a given grant's immediate support is as common as it is controversial with PIs.  ABW, particularly if refined and then applied to other buildings, would also allow for further occupancy-based revenue options down the road.

V. The Senate Proposes, the Chancellor Responds

UCSF faculty didn’t just express outrage at ABW. They also engaged and developed alternatives.  After writing an overview of the issues to its members on February 8th, Senate divisional chair Robert Newcomer sent ten recommendations to the chancellor on March 12 (page 11 of 67):

The process outlined here starts from the premise that simply refusing the open-space model is not sufficient. The faculty are ready to participate by offering alternatives to the open space design that are cost competitive. We outline below proposed steps that will lead to the review and consideration of multiple options, and ultimately to decisions that reflect financial reality and appropriate faculty consultation.

The Senate recommended that the Chancellor announce a moratorium "on the extension of the open-workspace model to campus buildings beyond Block 25a at Mission Bay," and the revision of the Block 25a building plans to leave two floors unoccupied pending the results of a study of ABW's impact.

On May 7, 2013, the Faculty Workspace Task Force, chaired by David Teitel, issued a White Paper with recommendations for a change in course, including an effort to "increase design flexibility" in the new building; a formal evaluation of whether an open office allows compliance with draconian HIPAA patient privacy rules (Appendix 1, page 10 of 67); a retooling of shared governance; and seven others.  The May 7th White Paper refined these recommendations to six.

Chancellor Desmond-Hellman responded on July 16th (author’s files).  She agreed to an occupancy survey focused on user productivity and satisfaction.  She rejected the moratorium on future ABW designs, explaining that the California Seismic Review board imposed deadlines on the Parnassus projects that would force the administration to design those buildings before Mission Hall’s ABW can be evaluated.

The Chancellor also noted new communication efforts, faculty committees, and ongoing HIPPA compliance.  She offered no assurances that she would or could honor faculty beliefs that ABW would, among other negative things, damage their creativity and productivity. Two participants confirmed to me that ABW is very much under consideration as an efficiency measure in the rebuilt Clinical Sciences Building and University Hall on the Parnassus campus.

Based on what I’ve heard and read this fall, my own sense is that open office will remain at Mission Hall, will be evaluated, will be mitigated and perhaps hybridized with some additional private offices, and will then be extended with these mitigations to the rebuilt portions of Parnassus.   I was told recently by one administrative participant,
the majority of the faculty accept this, including people going into the building. They're willing to try to make it work, and will do whatever it takes to mitigate any problems that arise, and of course there will be things that need to be fixed, as there are in all these buildings. The great majority of the faculty say, "ok we're in, let's go, let's make this work."  There are a few hotheads, and we're trying to work with them. But we haven't had faculty leave. We've been able to recruit into the building.

This of course begs the question of whether they should have to.

The whole affair raises three major issues:
  • Professional Authority: Will UC faculty and staff, including some of the most highly-trained people anywhere, be allowed to define what they need for their work?
  • Governance: Can UC administrative practice be changed to allow these work needs to be brought into the design process at the start?
  • The Business Model: Can UC's funding system still afford high-end work needs, a core element of historic quality?

Although I am a perennial optimist about the first two questions, I have become a pessimist about the third.  Jerry Brown has suspended the University’s traditional funding model and perhaps even terminated it.  The financialization of capital projects was fairly functional when it could assume generous and ever-increasing state funding.  It looks less functional now, as some of UC's most elite faculty are put into open office workstations on grounds of financial necessity.

UC certainly needs better collaborative structures among faculty, staff and administration. It needs to put the creative process of its large and brilliant workforce on par with the business model.   But UCSF's open office future suggests that UC as a whole needs to face the possibly that UC can no longer afford the facilities that allowed its people to make it a great university--and do something about that. 

VI. "I Used to have an office. Now I don't"

In the meantime, opposition to open offices in the corporate world is growing.  Los Angeles Times coverage of one conversion to open office revealed many misgivings. At Fast Company, which has never seen a business fad it didn’t like, editor Jason Feifer called for open revolt in his piece, “Offices for All!”

I’m not looking for your pity; I want your own righteous indignation. Because you, too, deserve an office.  We deserve better. We all deserve offices.  But it gets worse. We’ve been told that our small squat in the vast openness of our open-office layouts, with all its crossstalk and lack of privacy, is actually good for us. It boosts productivity. It leads to a happy utopia of shared ideas and mutual goals.  These are the words of imperceptive employers and misguided researchers.  The open-office movement is like some gigantic experiment in willful delusion. . .

This a trap.  This is saying, “Open-office layouts are great and if you don’t like them, you must have some problem.” Oh, I have a problem. It’s with open-office layouts. And I have a solution too: Every workspace should contain nothing but offices. Offices for everyone. . . Take those long tables, the ones currently lined with laptops at startups, and give them to an elementary school so children can eat lunch at them.

A few years from now, UCSF may be giving away some long tables too.


Anonymous said...

Open-plan cubicles first came into vogue for their cost savings, as they reduce gross square footage per person and especially because they reduce construction costs (particularly regarding electrical and HVAC for each office). But do they really reduce net costs over time?

There are studies that test the productivity of programmers in cubicles versus offices. "Peopleware" by Tom DeMarco and Tim Lister and is a great book with actual analyses. Their finding: at least for programmers, as a purely economic matter, offices pay for themselves quickly. Productivity and (interestingly) creativity and insight are far higher in offices.

Unknown said...

Structure of any building shows the reputation of building. The campus has so many structurally underfunded capital projects that donor programs can potentially crowd each other out.

Kopi Luwak

Anonymous said...

I found the following quote interesting: " How can somebody running an NIH-funded lab think about space everyday? I hope they're aren't thinking about space." UCSF must be swimming in space if the people running NIH-funded labs aren't thinking about space all the time. At UCSC, the biomolecular engineering department had their one recruitment for this year taken away, because there was no wet-lab space left in the School of Engineering. Who knows what will happen for the next 5 years, when BMEis supposed to be getting 2 new faculty a year (but will probably get 0, because "there is no wet-lab space").

Chris Newfield said...

thanks for the references. as for the admin quote in relation to UCSC, I think the speaker meant that NIH PIs wouldn't be reading "Peopleware" and pondering space theory, but your point is well taken.

Anonymous said...

You might want to ask what UCSF spent on the consultants who proposed this scheme.

Anonymous said...

While campus leaders are to be based in the open space, a number of them have rented private office space in neighboring buildings. It remains to be seen how many will spend significant time in open space.

Chris Newfield said...

Since writing the post, I've been collecting comments from non-academic acquaintances about their experiences in open office floorplans. There's uniform agreement on two things. First, that companies have them to save money. Second, that when you want to concentrate on your work you have to go somewhere else. Some people like the atmosphere--it can be active, friendly, entertaining, etc., but there is always someone on the phone, two people whispering, a couple of others getting up for something, etc. The workarounds involve various kinds of sensory deprivation, particularly expensive headphones. If they had an alternative --a cubicle or some other kind of quiet space-- these folks would spend all their "real work" time in that. It may be worth continuing to dig into the evolving literature on open office plans in order to develop at least a hybrid alternative

Anonymous said...

The UCSF Chancellor who famously noted she would be working in an open office has now announced her swift departure. Even though she brought corporate style innovations to UCSF, she now will leave less than a year before they come to fruition. Many of these, like the new faculty work spaces appear to be quite troubled. I thought it was impolite to leave before you clean up the mess you made.

Anonymous said...

in 2006 University of Washington bought Safeco Tower including the furniture and moved staff and faculty into its open plan.
it includes very few offices as seen in these evacuation maps.
the few faculty I spoke to said the view was fantastic but it was a terrible environment to work in because the space wasn't conducive to the kind of day to day work they do. they moved as soon as they could back to traditional offices.
has anyone performed a rigorous evaluation of that experiment?

Chris Newfield said...

thanks I hadn't seen the UW docs. It's nice to know they had the choice of returning to regular offices. As far as I can tell, that offer at UCSF would have largely resolved the issue.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I just saw these offices myself and I am completely appalled. The set up is atrocious, the room is atrocious, the bathrooms are ugly - it literally looks like an above average call center. You can have a conversation with a person in a focus room _outside_ the focus room - it is that sound proof. It is insulting to faculty. These are people who are saving lives, comforting people at their most vulnerable, and doing cutting edge research and UCSF has relegated them to literally the smallest cubicles they could find.

Chris Newfield said...

well put. I hear there's been no rethinking of the plan and that it's cost those units in recruitment. I'd be interested in further information on how the plan is working out for the occupants and how it has affected the programs.

QL said...

Moral is pretty low. A few divisions of the Cancer Center were moved to Mission Bay this month and are crammed in to the building space while the remainder of the faculty (most of whom collaborate and work together on patient care and other research) will stay at the other campuses. There doesn't appear to have been much of a thought out plan since all those other people will not come to Mission Bay until a completely new building is built since there is no more room in the current building.
Anyway, since you are a professor I'm guessing you have an office. Imagine if they decided that they would build a new building for the College of Letters and Science and everyone was getting moved into these low and small cubicles that are closely spaced together to "encourage collaboration." You are given a small cabinet with the option of a couple of extra filing cabinets. If you sit in your cube at your computer you could reach out and touch your neighbor without having to move too much. I also forgot to mention, they apparently ran out of money for custodial services because each person has to empty out their garbage in the garbage area at the end of each day. It's so absurd I keep hoping someone will say it's just a joke. Needless to say, I'm guessing the number of faculty contemplating leaving UCSF has risen significantly.

Chris Newfield said...

thank you for this update. One of my motivations for writing the post was my inability to imagine doing my job --research, writing, thinking, course preparing, meeting one-on-one or in small groups with students--in an open office. To do any of my jobs, I would need to leave my workspace. Except maybe to eat lunch while looking at all the email I haven't had time to answer . . . And adding trash emptying is another instance of an admin that gives zero thought to supporting the productivity of its faculty and staff @QL

QL said...

Thanks for responding Chris. New update: The overhead lights automatically turn off at 7 pm. But don't worry, you can use the little light at your desk because there's nothing like having work to do in the evening and having to do it in a dark building. It's unclear to me how long this can go on for. Will update if there is an uprising. The ironic part about all this is that I think the doctors would have revolted long ago (before they were moved) if they did not feel like patient care would be compromised if they did something drastic (like refusing to see patients).

Chris Newfield said...

the doctors can revolt by continuing to object over and over until somebody listens. I don't know what else works in politics--persistence and a kind of repetition of the same arguments over and over that academics don't like. And that's what this seems like. I've just come back from an international higher ed conference in New Zealand, and I'm amazed at how much easier it is for other countries to see education as a specific set of activities that has requirements that are part of the activity. Private consultation space would you think be a given. I go to these conferences and the US seems increasingly backward, like Britain.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Is there any further update on how the space is functioning? Other universities are looking to Mission Hall as a model, but 99% of the info online is objections before occupancy. How are the faculty feeling about it now?

Chris Newfield said...

I hear mixed things. some units who hated the idea found other accomodation, and other people have decided that they're stuck with it. @Anonymous

Anonymous said...

They are using Mission Bay as a model to do this at UC Merced. They point out how successful Mission Bay has been. I can't imagine working this way or asking my staff to work in these conditions. It's an embarrassment.

Anonymous said...

Mission Bay is being used as a model?! They've already started discussions about changing it to offices... although it doesn't seem yet that they are headed anywhere.
Faculty still don't like it. Most people don't hang out at the office if they don't have to. That's kind of how they are dealing with it.

Matthew said...


Any update on UW's attempt to move academics into open plan?

Very keen to followup with you if you're willing.


Join the Conversation

Note: Firefox is occasionally incompatible with our comments section. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.