By CATHERINE HOGUE
Have you ever taken a moment to think about the guy who fixes that broken desk in the back of your classroom? What about the man who repairs the leaking toilet down the hallway? Or the guy who controls the heating and air conditioning in every single building on campus, keeping you comfortable while you’re in class or in your dorm? How about the woman who cleans up trash around campus and mows the grass and spends hours outside in the freezing cold cleaning up snow so you can walk to your classes? Have you ever thought of them?
The truth is, few college students do. When we think about Millersville University, we think of academics. We think of striving to be our best, of learning, of achieving, of seizing the opportunity. We think of new presidents and a new library and new dorm construction; we think of students and professors and administrators. But what about those employees we don’t hear as much about? What about those that work “behind-the-scenes;” the staff that ultimately make the campus run and function so that students and faculty can go about their work?
Many departments fall under the umbrella of facilities: grounds, plumbing, carpentry, HVAC, housecleaning, etc. The employees in each of these departments work hard day in and day out to make sure the campus runs as smoothly as possible. Lance Birk has worked in plumbing at Millersville for 23.5 years now. He takes care of any maintenance that involves plumbing: flow of water, sewage, repairing toilets, sinks, chilled water pumps, heat pumps, and anything else that involves plumbing or pipes. His job isn’t “pretty,” but it’s a vital position that without it, the campus plumbing wouldn’t function. Birk said the worst part about his job is some of the disgusting calls they get, like clogged sewage ejection pumps.
Dave Schober is in his 11th year working in carpentry at Millersville. He focuses on masonry, restoration, as well as power-washing, which includes cleaning areas up and removing graffiti. Matt Sellers has been an employee at Millersville for 35 years. He started out unloading trucks for food services and now takes care of all the controls for temperature and lighting on campus. “Everything is computerized now, so we run all the computer systems,” he said.
Becky Boxleitner is nearing the end of her second year with the university as a member of the grounds crew. The groundskeepers are responsible for keeping the campus grounds looking clean and tidy, as well as beautifying them for aesthetic appeal. In addition to trash pickup, her duties are very seasonal-based. “In spring it’s mulching, edging, and sometimes plantings, but usually landscaping the beds,” she said. “Summertime it’s more oriented around weed-eating and trimming with the push-mowers and riding mowers. In the fall we obviously have a lot of leaf-clean-up. There’s a lot of cut-backs also; we cut back perennials. In winter it’s more like pruning trees and shrubs and snow removal, of course. Sometimes I weasel in special projects during the week.”
These men and women may have the “dirty” jobs on campus, but that doesn’t mean their work is any less important than that of those who sit behind a desk in a suit and tie or a nice blouse and skirt. They dedicate much of their time and hard work to making sure the university can function properly. They work long hours out in the extreme hot and freezing cold. They spend precious time away from their families. Their work is important. “Without the plumbing or the maintenance the building would just go to shit,” Birk said of the work he and other plumbers do around campus. Schober said one of the strengths of the maintenance department is their ability to respond to repair/move requests in a timely manner. Sellers said that “without HVAC, no one is going to be very comfortable.”
Boxleitner also agreed and said that the work the grounds crew does in order to keep the campus looking beautiful aids in future recruitment for the university. “By beautifying and maintaining the campus, I think we’re also a selling point,” she said. “When a parent comes in with their child to see if they want to go to the university, the first thing they see is the visual. I think we are literally opening the door for new people to come in and I think it’s really important to present a well-maintained campus.”
While these employees’ work is vital to the functionality of Millersville’s campus, their work doesn’t always get the recognition it deserves. It’s no secret that American society is divided into a class system, often times based on the kind of work one does for a living. The gap between white and blue collar workers is visible in everyday life, with a certain stigma attached to each group. Many times, the working class is looked down upon as those who have to get their hands dirty. “We are kind of the low men on the totem pole, kind of like the bottom of the barrel,” said Boxleitner.
Birk said that facilities employees are under-recognized on campus compared to say, professors and other faculty. “Maintenance is left out just like secretaries,” he said. “Professors and faculty don’t pay any attention to us unless they need something.” Schober agreed and said that’s typical for facilities workers. “People don’t view facilities as of equal importance to administrative jobs but when they need us in a pinch they realize how important we are,” he said. Sellers said that for the most part, he thinks individuals around campus recognize the work of facilities employees, but that there will always be some who don’t. “Some are very appreciative and are pleasant and fun to deal with,” he said. “Then there are some that are, like a cross-segment of any society, the grumpy ones.”
Schober said that while the teachers are the most important aspect of the school because without them there wouldn’t be a need for the university, they sometimes don’t always give recognition where it’s deserved. “When they need us, then we are very important,” he said. “Some professors are great and down-to-earth and others think that they’re way up here and you’re down there and that’s how they treat you. I think that holds true with the administration as well.” Birk said the only time he ever personally felt under-appreciated was by an administrator. “They yelled at me for parking in their space when I was working and said, ‘Do you know who I am?’ They degraded me out in public right in front of grounds-people, housekeepers, and everybody.”
As opposed to faculty and administration views, these facilities workers felt as though students were mostly appreciative of the work they do, saying that they’ve received compliments from students. Birk said, “The students are pretty grateful for everything we do; they thank us a lot.” Boxleitner said, “It surprises me but it pleasantly surprises me when they say ‘Hey, this really looks great guys, you did a great job.’”
Like these four employees expressed, some students acknowledge their work and others don’t. With their busy schedules, it can be easy for students to overlook the work facilities employees do around campus. “I do not really give them much thought because I do not really see them too much on campus and I am usually too busy to take the time to notice,” said senior Nicole Findley. However, she said she does feel as though they have a vital role in making the campus function in a safe and efficient way for the students. Senior, Jared Artman said he recognizes the work these employees do. “They are the people that deserve the most credit around here,” he said. “Without them, could you imagine this campus?” Artman felt as though students take the work facilities employees do for granted. “I see students just walk right by these types of people and not acknowledge them whatsoever,” he said. “It is kind of sad. What they do behind the scenes needs to be more acknowledged.”
Although their work may sometimes be overlooked, all of these blue-collar workers said that overall, they feel appreciated on campus. Every single one of them agreed that they love the people they work with and they love being a part of the Millersville University community. “The best part of my job is interacting with people; both the people I interact with directly but also all the people on campus,” Sellers said. “I love getting out on campus and being able to go in and help people solve problems. Millersville is just full of great people.” Schober agreed whole-heartedly. He was a block-layer before he came to MU and said the difference between a job site and a campus community is obvious. “The sense of community here is so different than working out on job sites where everybody is in such a hurry,” he said. “It’s more of a family-like atmosphere than I was used to.” And it’s true; at the end of the day, the entire campus works together to make things flow smoothly. Everyone has their role and everyone plays their part. Millersville is a community; a family; and in the end, no matter what your part, take pride in knowing that you’re part of the marauder family.