Staff Q&A/Doug Berger

Doug berger, director of Business Services DivisionPhoto credit: Mark Stehle

Doug Berger, executive director of the Business Services Division, is a man of many responsibilities around campus, including making sure the bills get paid and the lights stay on in Penn dorms. His Business Services portfolio consists of Housing and Conference Services, Dining Services, the University Club and Off-Campus Services.

He began his adult life as a social worker for a federally funded program in the early 1980s—but President Reagan later cut funding for the program and he was left unemployed. “I looked at what I knew best, and that was working in the residence arena and the university, so I became a hall director,” he says. “That was in 1981 and I haven’t left the university residence life environment since.”

Berger is in charge of the administrative side of the College Houses and Sansom Place East and West. He does logistics for Move In and Move Out and sees to it that maintenance and customer service issues in the dorms are addressed. He makes sure students can eat meals and wash their clothes, and also oversees mail delivery and the “big one,” room assignments.

Berger recently sat down with the Current to talk about the College House system, green initiatives in Penn dorms and how the students are as tenants.

Q. How did you end up in the Business Services Division?
A.
I’ve worked in housing administration/residence life from an undergrad on through grad school. I spent 15, 16 years at Kent State University in two different stints, and a couple of years at Ohio State University working in housing. I saw the job here; it was during the transition into the College House program. That model of housing is what I think is one of the best models you could have for housing programs because it’s tied to the University’s academic mission. That’s what I think university housing should be, part of the academic mission. So I think it was that philosophy, and some ability to have an influence on renovating buildings, that got me interested.

Q. Why do you think the College House design is such a good fit for the
University?
A.
In a typical university residence hall program, the residence halls are an auxiliary component of university living. The College House program ties the living to the academic mission. It reports to the Provost. Each house has a faculty master, a tenured faculty member who lives there with their family, if they have one. It has two faculty fellows who are associates and it has a house dean. It focuses on what’s happening outside the classroom as well as how to support the student academically. All of the house deans do academic advising. Faculty masters open their apartments for weekly teas, coffees, whatever. They just interact with students so students start feeling more a part of the academic environment and life here.

Q. How many students live on campus?
A.
On campus we have roughly 6,700. That includes our graduate housing, RAs, GAs, the College Houses. It’s about 57 percent of the undergraduates and about 7 percent of the graduate students.

Q. How are the students as tenants?
A.
They’re the reason I have done this for 29 years, basically. For the most part, they’re great. They are 17-, 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds and they’re not that different from students who are living in the housing at Drexel or Penn State or Ohio State. They’re all in that same age group, going through those same things in life, and trying things and making poor decisions from time to time and growing up. I tell people my two favorite times of the year are Move In and Move Out. People will say, ‘I can see [why you like] Move Out, you get rid of them,’ [but my favorite is] Move In because you see these students come in, these 18-year-olds. They’re scared, they’re apprehensive, they’re trying to act like adults. Over a year, when you have the luxury of being able to interact with them, you see when they move out, they’ve grown up. Even after the first year. Then they come back for the second year and you watch them grow after the second year. In four years, which goes very fast, you really see a transformation in most students and it’s fun to watch and sometimes be a part of.

Q. What renovations has campus housing undergone?
A.
We’ve renovated 70 percent of our bed space now. Close to $300 million in the 11 years I’ve been here has been spent on College House renovations. The Quadrangle, the three high rises and Du Bois have been fully renovated. We still have 30 percent of our beds to renovate. We’re starting to think about how we prioritize what we’re looking at going forward, requesting funds and those kinds of things. The next couple of years we’ll see some more, we hope, depending on the economy and the availability of funds.

Q. As director of Housing and Conference Services from 1998 to 2007, you increased the number of conferences hosted on campus and you’ve worked to improve the quality of life for students. Can you talk about your role in bringing more conferences to campus?
A.
When I came to Penn in 1998 there was not a Conference Services Office and I was charged with organizing and starting that office. There was a conference business that fell under Housing and Dining, and most of that business is still here. What we did was formalize the organization of Conference Services with the idea of bringing in more groups, increasing the size of groups and then providing better service while they were here, and really starting a one-stop shop. ... The biggest initiative University-wide with Conference Services offered last year was a conference registration website. At the site, departments and academic areas that are holding an event, or a conference or a workshop can register their attendees, collect registration fees, decide what kind of lunch they want and whether they need a hotel or not. Over the last year and a half, that’s been a huge business service that we’ve been able to provide the University community and I only see it continuing to grow.

Q. How are you trying to improve the quality of life for students?
A.
Housing Services has tried to support the College House program, whether it’s through our information centers, which are basically our front desks, providing help with lock-outs, and guest services and reference services. Or whether we’re trying to improve mail and package delivery by going to a contractor rather than just using part-time staff. We’ve renovated all the laundry facilities and put together a no-fee laundry program…That way, having to bring quarters for laundry is one less thing students have to worry about when they’re in school.

Q. What sort of assistance does Off-Campus Services provide?
A.
Off-Campus Services is kind of the referral, educational component for our students who live off campus: reviewing leases, how to sign a lease, helping them navigate the landlord/tenant rules and laws and policies. Also, we do a listing service for landlords to list their vacancies so students can easily find where the vacancies are. Forty percent of our undergraduates and 93 percent of our graduate students live in the off-campus rental market. That office is really the only University connection to those students. We retain an attorney to help with basic legal issues. It’s a small office but it touches a lot of students.

Q. Can you talk about Housing Services’ green initiatives, such as Reduce and Recycle and Energy Conservation?
A.
We replaced all the laundry equipment last year with ENERGY STAR equipment. It uses less water. We replaced all of the showerheads over the summer with ones that use less water. As we renovate buildings, we install lower water use toilets and we focus on how windows and heating and air conditioning systems can be more energy efficient. We’ve started to see some decrease in utility usage just through those initiatives. Through Facilities, we’re starting to meter buildings and they want to start publishing the electrical and utility use. We agreed to pay for the energy metering system in at least the three high rises that have been renovated. In any building we renovate in the future, we want to make sure [the metering system] is there so we can not only be more conscious of the energy we’re using, but also educate the students and let them have a hand in being more responsible.

Q. If you could give one piece of advice to students regarding housing, what would it be?
A.
Being the on-campus person, my advice to the students would be to get involved and have it become a part of your four years of college life. It’s where you’ll meet probably your closet friends, the colleagues that you may have in the future and the faculty that you could take advantage of when you’re thinking about graduate school or careers. There are so many components of living on campus that are available to a student that they need to be open to them and experience them.

Originally published on October 1, 2009