A Year Into the Pandemic, Checking in With the People Who Keep Campus Running

Nearly a year after students left the Forty Acres for spring break 2020, campus is still far emptier than usual, with many of UT’s faculty, staff, and even students Zooming  from home. For the folks who keep campus running, that quiet feeling of a holiday break has become their new, eerie norm. 

In some ways their lives look more “normal” than many of ours, as these campus workers continue to commute, pack a lunch, and say hello to the occasional co-worker in the halls, but COVID-19 has dramatically changed their day-to-day lives. We spoke with five people whose jobs required them to be physically on the Forty Acres as the world shut down around them. 

Geoff Bahre 
Manager of Facilities and A/V, UT Libraries  
Years on campus: 8 

“In many ways, my job has stayed the same. I continue to manage buildings and building issues on campus, liaise with Project Management and Construction Services (PMCS) for construction projects, and ensure the safety and security needs of students and staff are met. One significant change is that I am far more concerned about the health, safety, and well-being of my staff and co-workers. Enforcing the campus mask policy and ensuring that staff and students are socially distancing is something I worry about and check in on multiple times a day. My co-workers and I describe the quiet as being similar to the summer intersession, but surprisingly emptier. Traveling from building to building and finding parking is much easier—but all of those things are benefits of convenience. I would much rather have my team on-site and back together. 

I have found solace in the fact that here at UT Libraries I work with an incredible group of professionals who are dedicated to their work. I am certainly not the only employee at UT Libraries who comes to work during the pandemic. Our custodians, security guards, service desk staff, and receiving clerk are among many others who come to work and do their jobs despite the risks. Their efforts in keeping our facilities and services going for students and faculty members are honorable, admirable, and definitely worth noting.” 

Joe Gonzales 
Building Services Supervisor, Texas Union 
Years on campus: 9 

“My job has changed since the pandemic in various ways, but the most important responsibility for me these days is to keep this virus out of our Texas Union. I spent 27 years working in health care and in the environmental field before becoming part of the UT family. This pandemic made me go back to that experience and practice the steps of deep disinfecting all areas that would be touched by personnel. 

Being in charge of the Housekeeping Department here at the Texas Union, my team has increased our time disinfecting. Now, about half of our employees spend their entire shift just wiping down all areas. We want to be in control of this virus—not have it be in control of us. We used to set up often for events here at the Union, and I really miss not being able to do that. I love seeing the Union full of students everywhere, and right now, it’s nothing like that. I don’t like it at all. I’m ready for things to go back to normal.” 

Stephen McCrorie 
Facilities Manager, The Texas Exes 
Years on campus: 8 

“In some ways, my job has not changed at all since COVID-19 hit. Maintenance needs to be kept on schedule, and things still wear out or break down and need to be addressed. Luckily for me, I have a long history of working behind the scenes and tend to function well in my solitary role. In the maintenance world, no news is good news, and while the pandemic shutdown started off a bit rocky with several emergencies, it seems to have settled back down into a more continual routine. But I never realized just how much my co-workers had become my friends until I wasn’t seeing them anymore. 

I did unexpectedly find another community, though. My wife bought me a wheel-throwing class for Christmas 2019, but after only six pottery classes, we were shut down by the pandemic. The owners of the studio gifted me my very own key to the studio so that I could continue to practice. As my skills on the wheel progressed, so did my involvement at the studio. I am now the unofficial building manager, as well as the unofficial kiln manager, even an unofficial ceramics teacher to the owners’ children.” 

Ann Treffer
911 Emergency Communications Manager, UTPD
Years on campus: 6 

“We have just enough dispatchers to cover 24/7 operations. When COVID-19 hit, we broke into four separate teams to help lessen the chance of spread within our unit—one positive case could potentially take out three full shifts of people. We doubled our cleaning efforts at our shared workstations and followed the recommendations for social distancing and mask wearing. Thankfully we have not experienced any spread within our unit so far. 

While our overall call volume has diminished a bit, we are still pretty much business as usual. We still get calls from faculty, staff, students, and businesses who need assistance daily. COVID-19 has given us the opportunity to examine everything we do on a daily basis, and figure out if there are different or better ways we can do them to ensure everyone’s safety. A lot of thought and discussion has gone into making things as safe as possible for our personnel who are still here on campus taking care of the UT community.” 

Benn Chang
Senior Systems Administrator, UT Libraries
Years on campus: 20 

“While technology has long facilitated broad access to knowledge, the pandemic has accelerated demand for remote access to data and services. I am grateful and honored to be in a position where I can contribute to on-site work that provides remote access to the data and services hosted by the UT Libraries.  

A university campus is a place for collaboration, engagement, and exploration. A quieter campus these past 10 months has made for a strange and challenging experience for all. I miss events like the Astronomy Department’s public star parties and the on-campus Hot Science Cool Talks. I miss the great events staff, students, and volunteers who inspire curiosity in the young and old.”  

Photographs by Matt Wright-Steel


No comments

Be the first one to leave a comment.

Post a Comment