Off-campus employees work for UW at a distance

March 7, 2013

by Chris Barncard

Photo: printmaker at Tandem Press

Master printer Bruce Crownover uses a flatbed press to run a test print at UW-Madison’s Tandem Press, located on the near east side of Madison.

Photo: Bryce Richter

Bruce Crownover has worked full-time at the University of Wisconsin–Madison for nearly 20 years, as long as you take some artistic license with the definition of “at.”

Since 1994, the master printer at Tandem Press has spent his workdays at Tandem’s 201 S. Dickinson St. shop — a address that may be more familiar as home to the state’s car fleet.

“We’re probably better known in Manhattan than Madison,” Crownover says. “And maybe better known in the art world than on campus.”

But Tandem Press is far from alone in the UW–Madison campus universe.

Every day, hundreds of university employees commute to and from locations that never bring them within the borders of campus — or even the city of Madison. The UW–Madison crest adorns labs and offices and warehouses spread across Dane County and the state.

“For us, space was an issue,” says Nancy Robinson, assistant director at Fundus Photograph Reading Center. “We started out on campus, in the old medical school. But we outgrew that, and then we outgrew offices in the WARF building.”

“In this age of connectivity, it doesn’t feel so much like we’re off campus. We get all the emails, and we’re aware of what’s going on on campus.”

Nancy Robinson

Now Fundus, which evaluates images of the back of the eye for clinical studies conducted almost exclusively by researchers at other universities and pharmaceutical companies, employs nearly 100 people based at 8010 Excelsior Drive, just outside the beltline on the west side.

“Almost all our work is done with digital files and with researchers who aren’t in Madison to begin with,” Robinson says. “So we even have some experienced, talented employees who are working remotely from home.”

Thanks to the Internet, Fundus employees also feel very much like university staff.

“In this age of connectivity, it doesn’t feel so much like we’re off campus. We get all the emails, and we’re aware of what’s going on on campus,” Robinson says. “We’ve even had quite a few members of our staff who serve on academic staff committees and take part in campus governance.”

That’s not always a luxury available to the tight-knit staff at the Mineral Point Road location of the School of Human Ecology’s Preschool Laboratory.

“Because of what we do here, there are things happening on campus that we can’t get to,” says Paula Evenson, the site administrator. “But that’s because we have more than 30 kids here, and you can’t really leave them to get to the SoHE ice cream social, you know?”

At the same time, Evenson said she feels like the Mineral Point Preschool Lab offers something that the on-campus Linden Drive preschool site cannot.

“We always talk about one program, two locations, and we try to make them as similar as possible,” she says. “But from our perspective it is important for this program to be out in the community, where we can bring this excellent environment to parents who don’t work on campus or get to pass through campus.”

“I do miss the buzz of 40,000 students, and the idea that I can step out of the building and into a library. It might be a distraction to my work environment, but I get a thrill going to campus.”

Bruce Crownover

An excellent environment is in the eye of the beholder. Crownover says his coworkers who were not UW–Madison students (as he was) may not appreciate campus like he does. Work in Tandem’s shop is rarely interrupted by unscheduled visitors, but there is something to say about being close to the pulse of the university.

“I do miss the buzz of 40,000 students, and the idea that I can step out of the building and into a library,” he says. “It might be a distraction to my work environment, but I get a thrill going to campus.”

Keeping off-campus employees connected to the hub of UW–Madison activity requires some effort from home departments and schools, and Evenson says the effort does not go unnoticed.

“Sometimes we feel less a part of the campus community,” she says. “But our co-workers at Linden and our new dean, Soyeon Shim — she’s coming out here for a visit soon — push collaboration.”

Working off campus doesn’t mean going without. While his old building is getting a little cramped — and the ventilation could be better — Crownover says the Art Department works to keep them included, and provides all sorts of advantages.

“I feel like part of the university because I’m in still touch with students. I hire undergraduates and grad students to work here,” he says. “We get a lot of benefit from being part of the School of Education — grant money, collaborations with faculty on equipment and ideas.”

There are even logistical upsides to Tandem Press’ longtime East Side home.

“When we need a van, we can get one across the hall at a moment’s notice, and all campus mail actually moves through here,” he says. “The best hardware store in town is right down the street, … and we can park here for free!”

That may be the real trump card of an off-campus address.

Evenson: “There’s plenty of room to park here.”

Robinson: “Did I mention we park for free? That was like getting a raise.”