Brandon Chandler – Temple University
- Written by: Jennifer Shea
- Produced by: Andrew Wright & Mike Szajner
- Estimated reading time: 4 mins
Like many who rise to the rank of university housing facilities director, Brandon Chandler started at the bottom of the ladder, serving as a resident assistant at his alma mater, Rutgers University, and then taking a job as a housing coordinator after graduation.
But as he began climbing the rungs, Chandler did something different: he earned his MBA from Temple University’s Fox School of Business, a degree which he says made him look at his work through a strategic lens—one that has given him a unique perspective on the challenges facing the field of higher education facilities.
Now overseeing facilities with more than 5,000 beds and two dining halls, with students from 17 schools and colleges, Chandler essentially runs a multimillion-dollar mini-business under the larger Temple umbrella. He handles everything from budgetary decisions and human resources issues to project management.
In the future, he says, most facilities directors will need a business degree or considerable management experience, given the work’s financial ramifications.
“If you’re suddenly thrust into leadership, which happens a lot in recent years with the way people are churning through staff, it’s easy to screw a lot of stuff up very quickly,” Chandler says. “It’s reactive decision-making. Having a business degree or background helps you hone your decision-making process and makes you a much stronger partner with other colleagues on campus.”
Anticipating students’ needs
Chandler is trying to turn the page on that reactive decision-making with his renovation work on two of the university’s housing buildings: 1300 Residence Hall and 1940 Residence Hall.
Both buildings needed major exterior repair work, along with LED lighting, new paint, ceiling grid replacements, new carpeting and new flooring. The buildings are also getting new furniture and technology packages for the common areas based on research about how students are using the spaces.
“Older furniture was based on this idea that students just come and chill in a room in large numbers, and that really isn’t what we see anymore,” Chandler says. “Students use those spaces, but more in small groups. Or oftentimes as individuals. So, we’re changing the package to more individual seating.”
The renovations of 1300 Residence Hall wrapped up last summer after nearly two years of work. Now Chandler and his team are tackling 1940.
“This is what we are supposed to do,” Chandler says. “Students expect their money to be reinvested in the buildings they are staying in. We want to keep up with the demand of what our students and prospective students are looking for: clean and attractive facilities.”
The invisible workforce
In keeping with his MBA training, Chandler consistently makes planning and strategy a front-burner priority. And in an age of shrinking enrollment and expanding building footprints, he says two challenges loom largest.
The first is accessibility: being an open campus and not leaving anybody out. That’s not just an obligation of the Americans with Disabilities Act; it’s also a financial necessity. As Chandler sees it, the only way to compensate for enrollment declines is to welcome a wider range of students, from underrepresented groups including people with disabilities to transfer students to adult learners.
The second is replacing an aging facilities workforce. The backbone of many campuses, including Temple, is a skilled, blue-collar workforce that is retiring faster than universities can hire.
“As you work in this field you realize it’s not magic; there’s just a lot of hard work happening behind the scenes by a group of dedicated people,” Chandler says. “There’s an effort that goes into the background of making sure that the desks are tight, and the floors are shining, and the controls work properly.”
Respecting the lives of that workforce is a constant balancing act for Chandler. The need to get work done without interrupting the students requires him to demand more of his workers: a plumbing job has to happen overnight, for example, on top of someone’s regular day shift.
“It forces us to work at times of the year or times of the day that are not very friendly to being a family member,” he says. “It makes it very difficult sometimes—you want to be fair to people and you want to say you care, but sometimes the decisions you make say differently to them.”
For now, Chandler says he’s right where he wants to be in his career—even if it took a steep climb to get there.
A 2003 graduate of Rutgers University, Chandler started out as a coordinator of housing and residence life at the school the following year. By 2010, he’d been named the campus director of housing and residence life.
Six years later, driven by a longtime dream to own a business and help others, he started his own consulting business, Chandler Professional Services LLC. In 2019, when the opportunity to work on a leadership “dream team” with friends presented itself, he moved to Temple.
Today, when he’s not getting creative about staffing challenges or overseeing major building renewals, Chandler is continuously pushing Temple to have a better campus than it did the day before. Seeing those little nudges add up over time is one of the most rewarding parts of his job.
“I know that whenever my time here is done, I’ll be able to look back and say, ‘I’m part of the process that updated that building,’ or, ‘I saw a reduction in our deferred maintenance during my time at the helm,’” Chandler says. “And I think those are really important things.”
View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. II 2023 Edition here.
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