Let’s say her name is Eilish (not her real name). She was the best custodian we ever had. Mind you, we had plenty of hardworking custodians over the years. Eilish was a Republican. Often she’d tease me for being a la-la bed-wetting Democrat. When we matched wits, I was reminded that some professors are educated above their intelligence. I admired Eilish because she is an immigrant. She worked hard. She raised two fine daughters. Both graduated from UW and one now works in Wyoming as a lawyer. The other is in Alaska, working in medicine. When Eilish was on the job, the building sparkled.
Not anymore. Currently, our scientific staff clean some of our corridors and toilets. This is no reflection on the current custodian. It speaks to long-term policies in hiring and retaining the University of Wyoming’s most poorly-paid, full time employees. As an example, custodians working at UW’s palatial Gateway Center make an average of $23,236 per year. Others on campus make even less, some as low as $16,300. Compare that to the average salary of an associate professor in English ($66,900; = 2.9 custodians). Or a VP for information technology ($250,008; = 10.8 custodians). Or the football coach ($1.4M base salary; = 60 custodians).
An outside consultant recently delivered his report on the state of UW’s custodial services. The message was simple. Over the past 15 years, as building footage increased, the number of custodians decreased. In FY05, UW had 6.3 million sq. feet of building footage (only a set percentage of this is cleaned by custodians). At that time UW had 103 custodians. Twelve years later, in FY17, footage had increased to 7.3 million sq. feet. UW had gained one million sq. feet. Yet custodian numbers had fallen to 84.
The only way they keep up with an increased workload is to prioritize. Snow removal on approaches to building came first, since it is a safety issue. This is followed in order by cleaning rest rooms, public spaces, teaching areas, offices and laboratories, and finally storage space.
UW custodians are resigned to the fact that they will be asked to clean more space. In truth, given their druthers, they’d rather be paid properly and compensated for the additional workload of more footage. That way, they would not need state assistance or a second job, or having to choose between missing a meal when confronted with unexpected expenses.
It seems extraordinary that upper management needed a consultant to tell them what everyone on campus already knew. Staff senate in February 2015 formally reminded upper administration that new buildings are not a one-time cost. They must be cleaned, lit and heated. Yet trustees continue to be mesmerized by an erection complex. One trustee asked the consultant which of 16 recommendations had highest priority. One seemed a no-brainer: UW needs 20 more custodians, assuming trustees think a safe clean campus is a good idea. The consultant evaded the question, perhaps because his mother and several sisters were custodians. I imagined a thought-bubble above his head: “Good grief, man – MOST OF THEM!”
Academics and public universities are unpopular in this Trumpian era. In a period of declining expectations, some in Wyoming will regard the years of flat salaries and employee reductions at UW a good thing. But it affects everyone on campus, not just bed-wetting professors. It includes our janitors, and the lack of respect with which they are treated.
Because as go UW custodians, so goes UW.