Longtime Physical Plant director let go

Kijai Corbett

During a Jan. 23 meeting held for Lawrence custodians, the decision to eliminate one of the longtime Physical Plant staff members was announced. John Moder, former associate director of physical plant, was let go last month to make way for a new energy conservation program at Lawrence.
Linda Mossberger, a custodian at Draheim House, remembers being incredulous at the news, noting, “We were told John was let go and I said, ‘What?'” Other staff and faculty reported similar disbelief at the decision.
Moder had worked at Lawrence for over 32 years. First hired as a young man to move a garage for the university, “32 years later,” Moder reflected, “I was still moving things, just bigger ones.”
Widely considered “a great guy,” Moder was well liked by staff, faculty and students. Professor Rob Neilson commented, “John was very helpful with students trying to place artwork throughout campus.” Other members of the community remembered John fondly and were sad to see him go.
Unfortunately for Moder and his colleagues, Lawrence needs to save money on energy. Rising energy costs alone added a projected $1.4 million to the budget for 2007. Harold Ginke, executive director of physical plant, asserted, “Energy consumption and conservation is and will continue to be a major concern for Lawrence University in the years ahead.”
In an effort to “contain and reduce energy expenditures,” the position of energy/facilities engineer has been created. When hired, the engineer will “create, design, and implement new and innovative energy conservation programs,” according to Human Resources.
In addition, the engineer will be responsible for 24-7 operation of the campus, as Moder was in the past. When asked if he could have undertaken this new program, Moder replied, “No, I don’t have a college education. I’m a tradesperson.”
While seemingly straightforward, Moder’s elimination has sparked much concern throughout campus. Rumors abound that the reorganization spells future staff cuts in other departments.
One professor commented on the divide he sees between staff and faculty. He did not feel that animosity exists, but rather a lack of communication between the two sides. This lack of communication seems to be at the heart of the confusion and concerns over Moder’s leaving.
Outside of the custodians, no meeting was held for staff or faculty regarding the decision. They received a brief memo on Feb. 6 outlining Moder’s elimination and the need to implement an energy program. Despite receiving this e-mail, some members of the community were unaware of the situation or had heard only by word-of-mouth.
As for staff cuts, one official said that he saw no need for further eliminations, but said that it would not be his decision in the end. Ginke, who was to be involved in the decision, declined to comment.
While it has been difficult to obtain any clear answers about the issue, this may be due less to the possibility that there is something to hide than to the reality that there really are no clear answers at the moment. In this time of transition, everything is still up in the air.
Moder commented, “It’s unfortunate what’s happened, but they feel they’re doing what’s best for the university.” Moder also repeatedly affirmed how much he had enjoyed working at Lawrence, saying, “Lawrence University has been wonderful.” He also mentioned that he “really enjoyed working with people,” a fact that is readily apparent in how well-regarded he still is at Lawrence.