A College President Goes Undercover to Understand Staff

January 28, 2011 (PLANSPONSOR.com) – Ithaca College President Tom Rochon says after the three days he spent working in the facilities department at the college, he sees the campus and those who work on it with new eyes.

“I belong to the campus more fully than before,” Rochon said in an article in ICView, Ithaca College’s magazine for alumni, parents, and friends.  

With the goals of getting to know more of the staff members and better understanding their work, Rochon spent the first day working with the grounds division laying out irrigation pipe to water one of the athletics fields and repairing some bare spots on the lawn of the upper quad, as well as watering trees and weeding the flower beds on the academic quad. On his second day, he worked with custodial services, whose staff members clean the 78 office, classroom, and residential buildings on the campus, and on the final day of his experience, he joined a crew from setup-and-events services moving sofas and chairs out of some residence hall suites to be replaced with new furniture before students returned.  

Rochon said when he greeted the freshmen at convocation last fall, he let the Clarke Hall residents know that the president had cleaned their shower stalls. When he learned that the old furniture he and the crew had replaced was most likely going to be donated to a nonprofit service organization, he felt pride in his college.  

Comparing his experience to the TV show Undercover Boss, Rochon said the CEOs come to conclusions similar to his: People in frontline production or maintenance positions work very hard and they take great pride in their jobs. “Pride in craftsmanship was evident everywhere during my three-day odyssey,” Rochon wrote in the article.   

Rochon said he learned that experience and insight are often located at lower pay grades than is the authority to make improvements, and he hopes to use his new relationships and continued presence around campus to ease the flow of suggestions up the chain of command.  

Rochon’s account of his experience is here.