Academics at University of Canterbury forced to share office spaces
Academics may soon share offices and hot-desk as the University of Canterbury puts the squeeze on space.
The Tertiary Education Union (TEU) warns students might suffer, as academics would be less accessible and might spend more time working from home.
Vice-chancellor Dr Rod Carr said it would make students “less intimidated” to approach staff, who often appeared as they were “locked away in their own private cupboard”.
The university planned to make “better use” of space by not giving all staff their own private offices after a review of its space allocation policy.
Shared workspaces would be considered on a case-by-case basis, and hot-desking would be required in instances where staff spent less than three days a week on campus.
Staff who could justify their presence most days of the week would more than likely have their own office.
“It’s just saying if you’re on campus Monday, Wednesday, and somebody else is only there Tuesday, Thursday, why do you each have your own lockable private office,” Carr said.
Carr said several buildings in the university had corridors full of “closed doors”.
“[It] encourages a certain type of behaviour, which is, this is me … in my cupboard … leave me alone”.
The Tertiary Education Union (TEU) said the shared-office plan worked directly against what it was trying to achieve.
TEU national president Dr Sandra Grey said the policy was worrying because students would not be able to knock on their lecturer’s door to ask simple questions about assignments or teaching material.
Instead, they would have to book a time to meet in a separate room.
“It formalises what sometimes is just a simple query from students,” she said.
Grey felt students would either decide against asking questions, or send their lecturers emails, which was not “a good channel for the development of ideas”.
Carr said the academic board was aware of the changes, but Grey said staff felt as though the plans had been “forced on them from above”.
She said several staff would opt to work from home, and that would create a further barrier between staff and students.
“They’re creating individualised people who work from home, who only answer their phone when absolutely necessary, who only come onto campus when absolutely necessary,” she said.
Carr said the university had “always had” a space allocation policy, but new developments on campus meant it required further thought.
He said the university’s $70 million dollar new education building would include 60 office spaces. Eighty-five staff were employed to work there.
The plan was not to re-purpose or re-use space, he said.
“It’s just that we’re not getting any more”.
The education faculty, for example, was downsizing from 20,000 square metres of space to about 8000 metres.
He said as student numbers increased, and more staff were employed, academics would be required to be flexible.
“We are just trying to be responsible as we deploy all this capital refurbishing and building buildings,” Carr said.