Vice President for Campus Operations Jim Gray has a pretty broad job description. Falling under his purview is overseeing grounds, public safety and police, environmental health and safety, sustainability, university services, dining services, conferencing and events services and facilities services, including construction. When asked how he would describe what he does, Gray responded that it isn’t terribly overwhelming.
“I’d describe my job as an interesting portfolio of interesting things. Every day is different, and that’s the kind of environment I enjoy,” he said, continuing, “Our’s is a customer service organization. We make it possible for faculty, students and staff to do what they do.”
Indeed, Gray is responsible for maintaining the facilities and services that keep the clockwork of the university moving. Contending that while his job “isn’t rocket science,” he acknowledged the trickiness of maintaining and responding to the workings and needs of the entire campus community.
A commercial real estate developer in years past and a law student before that, Gray sees his career as having two portions. Having attended Indiana University for both his bachelor’s and law degrees, Gray went into private sector real estate development, management and construction for Duke Realty Corporation for 14 years. “I enjoyed my career in the private sector very much … but I also wanted my career to have a half to it that involved, at least to some extent, giving back to nonprofit mission enterprises,” Gray said.
Gray considered the idea of returning to his alma mater for work, where he had also served on the Board of Trustees for two years, but while considering that next step in his career, Harvard University recruited him to be the an associate vice president in charge of Harvard Real Estate Services for eight years. After that point, Gray spent most of his time working with universities, going to University of California, Berkeley for several years before finally being recruited to lead campus operations at Brandeis. “I wanted to get back into a larger operations role like I had at Harvard. I was thrilled to be offered the position,” he said.
When asked about some of the most important tasks confronting today’s university operations, Gray stated that deferred maintenance is a huge issue. He noted, “We haven’t been keeping up with the maintenance of our physical plant as well as we should have been. The university has recognized the significant issue, and we’ve spent a significant amount to fund more activity.”
According to Gray, construction is something that’s concentrated during the summer months on campus, but larger projects naturally have to be conducted over a longer period of time. Deferred maintenance such as replacing a steam line can be done in a shorter period during the summer. However, projects like building remodels, updating residence halls and renovating dining halls take longer, as was apparent early this semester with several first-year residence halls and Sherman dining hall.
On the subject of current projects, Gray also noted that Campus Operations is engaging in a lot more surveying of “customers,” as he calls the faculty, staff and students who Campus Operations serves. Campus Operations are developing a set of “Key Performance Indicators,” which are used to determine what are important to the community and how to use the same amount of money to more positively impact the quality of campus life.
Finding efficiencies is a major theme of Gray’s future plans—holding down costs while providing the necessary resources for running the university. “Any time we can spend a dollar and get a dollar and a half of value, that’s a gigantic step forward,” he said, noting that the “Turn it Off” campaign reduced both the electric demand on the hottest day of the year while working to set a lower electric rate for the university to pay for the upcoming year.
Gray stressed how the campus could be more efficient through helping the environment, saying “Sustainability is a huge focus this year … The first thing I wanted to do was get a good sustainability person hired, and we hired one. The president lent her considerable and enthusiastic support, and on Friday, we had the first meeting of the president’s task force on campus sustainability. We’re trying to focus on reducing our carbon footprint, which we really haven’t been successfully doing to this point. We should do better.” Gray said later on, “We’ve been talking about it since 2008 or before, and we haven’t really moved the needle—our carbon consumption is the same. We find that unacceptable.”
Gray continued, “I’m committed to making progress on this topic with the help of a wide community. Having a campus-wide focus on this problem will move that needle.”