Dirty Jobs?

Linda RossIn the summer of 1980, Linda Ross accepted a part-time, temporary job as a custodial worker serving the Language Schools. By the end of the session, the temporary tag had been removed; the part-time designation followed, and by 1994, Ross had been promoted to the assistant director of custodial services. She now oversees a division of 96 people who work in vehicle rental, space management and office moves, office services, and custodial services.  

On her expansive desk sits a nameplate with the words Boss Ross. Always within reach is her “magic wand,” which she wields whenever the occasion warrants. Linda Ross has a face made for smiling; she laughs a lot. And on an early winter morning, she sat down with Middlebury Magazine to talk about her job.

 

It’s the interaction with people—faculty, staff, and students—that is the best part of the job. Getting to know people.

Biggest challenges? Holding on to staff in the department. It can be hard to keep good people. It can be hard work here, and younger folks are seeing the challenges for the first time. It may not be their dream job, but it is their job. I have high expectations of my staff. That’s who I am. Holding people to those expectations is important.

Some of the challenges that I think about now that we didn’t used to think about are things like a pandemic flu. A cleaner campus can lead to a healthier campus. There’s really no way to measure that, but it’s always on your mind.

We lost a lot of staff [through voluntary separations and early retirement] during the recession. So we had to cut back on some of the services that we offered. That was hard.

I think our staff has finally accepted this. People take pride in their work, and it was hard to cut back on some things that we used to do regularly when we had more staff. I have to really compliment the Commons staff and residential staff for being supportive, for saying to us, “It’s OK, we understand.” That’s helped our folks get through it.

For me, personally, this job is so rewarding because I do feel that people understand what we do. Maybe it’s my rose-colored glasses, but I think that everybody realizes what we do, what we bring to the table. The appreciation comes forth in so many ways.

I would have to say that in all my years of experience at Middlebury, there have been only a handful of times when a student has looked at the department and said, “That’s your job. You’re a maid.” It’s only a handful. In 32 years.

The most important thing is building a relationship with students.

Two young men came forward after causing quite a hassle for us last year during the week of Commencement. They came before Community Council and spoke about the things that they had done—they had sprayed off some fire extinguishers—and asked what they could do to help us in the future. I looked at it and thought that we could turn this into something really positive, make this a learning experience for them. Since then they’ve come forward with some great ideas on how to discourage dorm damage, reckless behavior. A negative has turned into a positive.

Watching a student grow. That’s a thing that’s good, in my opinion.

Things aren’t nearly as bad as they used to be. I remember getting a call about lobsters in the toilet down at the Mill. Or a calf in the living room of a fraternity house. One time a student had a boa constrictor, and the kid would let the snake out of his cage to exercise. One day, a plumber walked into the bathroom and there was the snake. He didn’t come to work for two days after that.

Before we renovated Hadley and Milliken, the students on one given night had bricked in the alcoves, closing in people in two rooms. I have to say, the craftsmanship was beautiful.

Stuff like that doesn’t happen anymore.

Those things are fun to look back on. Though at the time I guess it wasn’t that funny.

In 32 years, you see a lot of people come and go, not just students but faculty and staff, too. What’s great, though, is when you hear from someone who graduated 20 years ago, and they ask, “Do you remember me? You helped me grow up.” That’s what we do.

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