Relocation of top administrators stirs concern for displaced faculty

Some faculty said they face an uncertain future after being moved out of their offices to make way for top officials relocating from Rice Hall.

Officials announced last week that senior administrators will vacate offices in Rice Hall by December 2018 and move to Old Main and Alumni House, forcing at least six offices and academic departments in those buildings into other spaces that haven’t yet been determined. Faculty affected by the move said they were concerned they would be left with smaller spaces and a more inconvenient work environment after relocating.

Yonah Bromberg Gaber | Graphics Editor

Source: D.C. Geographic Information System Program. Projection: NAD 1983 StatePlane Maryland FIPS 1900 Feet.

Alicia Knight, the senior associate vice president of operations, said officials decided to include Rice Hall in the planned 2100 Pennsylvania Avenue complex – a 450,000 square foot investment property featuring retail and office space – to increase the building’s economic value to the University.

The University president’s office and Office of the Provost will move into Alumni House while vice presidents and their staffs will be housed next door in Old Main.

“As the buildings are right next door to each other, University administrators will be able to move easily between the buildings for meetings and will be able to continue formal and informal communications,” she said in an email.

She said officials have been in discussions with departments impacted by the move and the University is “in the process” of identifying future locations, but those locations have not yet been determined. She added that officials avoided moving administrators into student space, which has been a controversial subject in years past.

Knight declined to say if any additional resources would be provided for faculty and administrators during the moving process, how the departments that are moving would be affected and why Alumni House and Old Main were chosen as administrative buildings.

Once all departments now housed in Old Main and Alumni House are cleared out, both buildings will be renovated to house administrators moving out of Rice Hall. Knight declined to say how much renovations would cost or what that would entail for both buildings.

Five faculty members with offices in Old Main said they would be moving to different locations, but they didn’t know exactly when. Knight said the offices in Old Main would be cleared out by December.

Christopher Brick, the editor and the principal investigator of the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers project, based in Old Main, said he asked officials in the provost’s office to give the program a comparable amount of space in its new home, but he was unsure where exactly the program would be moving or if the program would get the requested space.

“Having adequate space and solace to engage in that work is one of the reasons why this space has worked for us really well,” he said.

Brick said the decision to move out of Old Main felt “heavy-handed” because his office was not informed about the move until two weeks ago and no discussions were held between officials and members of the project before the announcement was made.

Seven faculty in the geography department, which will also be moved out of Old Main, did not return request for comment.

The department’s offices were empty Friday and a sign on a professor’s door indicated that faculty had been temporarily relocated to Phillips Hall.

The relocation plan drew attention from the Foggy Bottom and West End Neighborhood Advisory Commission, a neighborhood group, after the announcement last week. Patrick Kennedy, an ANC commissioner, said he was concerned the University was dedicating a large amount of space for use only by administrators.

“If the University is utilizing the Rice Hall footprint for investment purposes, it is giving up that same footprint as a potential site for uses more directly relevant to its academic mission,” he said. “I don’t think that’s something that should be taken lightly.”

Kennedy said the ANC has asked the University through a resolution to say where all of the functions formerly housed in Rice Hall will be relocated to see exactly how students and faculty will be affected.

The Department of Theatre and Dance will move out of its spot on the second floor of the Marvin Center, to make way for the undergraduate admissions office, and move to Building XX on 20th Street.

Giselle Ruzany, an adjunct professor of anatomy and kinesiology and movement awareness, said the move would disrupt the close-knit community the department has created in the Marvin Center. She said classes in the department will now be taught in buildings separate from professors’ offices, creating less face-to-face interaction between faculty as well as students.

“In the arts specifically, if you cannot collaborate, if you cannot inspire each other then what’s the point of being at the University?” she said.

GW will also lose its central gathering spot for alumni as part of the move, but officials said former students would soon have a new place to congregate.

Venessa Perry, the president of the Alumni Association, which is not based in Alumni House, said she wants to ensure that any future campus space for alumni is easily accessible to former students returning to campus.

“When people come on campus, we want them to be able to go to whatever that central location is for alumni to be able to gather and find us easily without walking all over campus,” she said.

Perry said the move would not disrupt either the Alumni Association or the alumni relations office.

Experts said top officials may struggle to retain the same level of communication and collaboration with vice presidents and their staffs working in a different building than the University president and provost.

William Zumeta, a professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Washington, said it’s easier for administrators to meet either informally or gather for major decision making if they are in the same building and that often employees tend to forge closer relationships with the people they are working with directly.

“We know that in research collaborations and industry collaborations they try to get people physically together,” he said. “It’s a good thing to stay together.”

Martin Finkelstein, a professor of higher education at Seton Hall University, said it was unusual for universities to not have one central administrative building. It might be disruptive to daily activities but teleconferencing and other technologies could help keep lines of communication open for officials working in the two buildings, he said.

He said it appeared the University deliberately chose to relocate smaller departments – like geography and dance – because they have fewer students and less clout on campus.

“Isn’t that what you do in the school yard,” he said. “If you have to pick a fight, pick it with many people who are relatively weak rather than a few people who are strong.”

Justine Coleman, Brielle Powers, Parth Kotak and Cayla Harris contributed reporting.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.