Sandra Olson: The Woman Behind the Blueprint

photo: Todd Ehlers

It is no surprise that a lot of people have told Sandra Olson they wouldn’t want her job. As Director of Facilities at Worcester State University, Olson oversees a staff of 63 employees and all of Worcester State University’s buildings and property which covers over 57 acres and averages somewhere between 6-8,000 in traffic every day. Olson oversees overseers. Capital Planning & Improvements, Environmental Health, Safety & Sustainability, Building Services & Trades, Building & Grounds Operations and Maintenance and Residence Hall Facilities Services all fall within her purview. Her department is on call 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

Okay, so: all building and reconstruction projects from beginning to end and all daily operations of the entire campus, “anything that you walk on, sit on, sleep on, eat, breath, flush, wash with . . .” as she put it, “the last thing you notice if we are doing our job well.” Olson maintains a keen interest in having people notice one thing right away: the overall appearance of campus properties, inside and out. Citing studies of families visiting campuses with prospective students, Olson explained the importance of aesthetic appeal: decisions are made in the first 30 minutes of those visits.

Thanks in no small part to improvements to school property that Olson played a key role in, Worcester State University gained national recognition in 2010 and 2011 as “Most Environmentally Responsible School” according to Princeton Review, and according to publisher Robert Franek, “[c]ollege bound students are increasingly interested in sustainability issues”: how ‘green’ a school is has become another important factor in potential students’ considerations. Worcester State is committed to becoming “climate neutral.” This is all good, but it can be complicated business.

Olson said that delays in reconstruction of the Learning Services Center had a lot to do with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the old window caulking. As she explains it, they do an “environmental scan” of buildings slated or under consideration for reconstruction and knowing the dates of a building’s original construction and materials used at the time tells them what to expect to have to deal with so they knew about the PCBs early in the process but since they must be disposed of in specific ways this involved a stream of proposals and reviews going back and forth between her offices and the Environmental Protection Agency: the problem is there is only one EPA representative in the entire eastern region who handles these things.

Olson’s academic background is in electrical engineering and business management. Her daily routine includes a lot of time spent working with two Facilities staff members who are mechanical engineers, overseeing project management. She said they spend a lot of time on programming, bidding processes, and dealing with interim arrangements which involve things like creating and looking after “swing spaces” where people and things that are temporarily displaced by reconstruction get “a new home” during reconstruction.

Students will soon see a “modular complex” constructed out of units delivered to the faculty parking lot behind the Sullivan Building. The facilities and housing currently in the old gym building will go there while that’s being torn down next month and the new facilities are under construction. That old gym building was built in 1958, so in the big picture, these things do take time.

Olson conveyed her pleasure in seeing all the students in the LSC library now and how well those completed areas are working; “there’s nothing more disheartening” she said, than building something that is designed poorly, that doesn’t serve the purpose it’s intended for and ends up being a “ghost town”. Olson takes great pains to avoid that, employing strategic maneuvers such as setting projects aside sometimes due to funding or other considerations which would prevent such an ideal outcome as can be seen upstairs in the LSC. Olson’s standard is to shoot for excellence; designing for state of the art facilities of a quality on par with the best private schools while working within the budgetary confines of a public institution with more limited resources.

Olson was presented with an award for Extraordinary Dedication in 2010. In her 9 or so years as Facilities Director at WSU, she has overseen $127 million in local projects, and another $115 million will go into projects slated over the next 3-4 years. Over the previous 20 years only $45 million in projects were completed altogether. To say Olson has a full plate would be an understatement: current project plans extend over the next 7 years. She said that they try to do a lot in what they call the “summer slam”; the period between the moment students leave at the end of the spring semester and when they get back for fall classes. So she doesn’t get much of a summer break either.

As to parking and other construction related inconveniences right now, one consolation Olson offered students is a reminder that as Alumni they will have access to everything that is not done yet. All projects will be completed eventually, but Sandra Olson’s job is never done.





Right Here, Right Now: Sustainability from the Ground Floor

photos: USFS Region 5 CC and Pug50 CC (my mix)

Tackling the looming specter of unsustainable economics in an effective way is SIMPLE, if you got the gist of Professor Stephen Healy’s presentation ‘Building a Green Economy” in the Blue Lounge last Wednesday.

Healy’s was one of four ‘Teach-In’ lectures at Worcester State University’s 5th Annual Sustainability Fair, but his was definitely more than a lecture. There was a great turn-out, a lot of people and a lot of students taking notes for assignments. But that’s not all Healy had in mind.

Healy has a new book; Take Back the Economy, Any Time, Any Place coming out in 2013. Asa Needles, who introduced Dr. Healy said the book is about “rethinking what we mean by economics” and the ‘Teach-In’ turned into an exercise in point.

Before it was over the audience got a taste of the idea by becoming participants, ever so briefly, in how a working model of sustainable economics happens, as in: right here, right now.

In his introduction Healy talked about Worcester’s manufacturing history, of “de-industrialization and abandonment” and one result of that being 1,200 brownfield sites. These are old industrial sites that are no longer in use whose soil is likely somewhat contaminated.

Healy talked about the people of Worcester on the “economic margins” being excluded from the traditional processes of economic development, yet having these consequences which they are not responsible for to deal with, and he said that the prospect of sustainable development really only makes sense if they are involved at the core of the process.

As an example he showed “Eat Your Landscape”, a TED talks presentation by Pam Warhurst about a fantastic transformation in Todmorden England where the whole community became involved, growing food in every conceivable public place, commencing with the demise of decorative flower beds and being so thorough as to include artfully designed edible raised beds on town cemetery plots. There’s a lot more to it; how much further it goes is worth seeing.

In the video Warhust made one thing clear: “we’re not asking for anyone’s permission, we’re just doing it” . . . “we’re not doing it because we’re bored, we’re doing it because we want to start a revolution.” She also explained that using the “language of food” cuts across social barriers to “the sort of shifts in behavior we need to live within the resources we have” and “to stop us thinking like disempowered victims and . . . start taking responsibility for our own futures.” By “the power of small actions” she pointed out, “we’re starting to believe in ourselves.” So who can participate in this kind of economic development? Simply put, a la Warhurst: “If ya eat, you’re in.”

After the video Healy’s audience was asked to split into groups and discuss how what was in that video could be used or adapted to make a difference in Worcester and what concrete actions toward that end could be taken now. Then members of the audience raised questions and points from their discussions.

The issue of growing food in potentially contaminated soil was brought up, or “how do we transpose this idea to a post-industrial city like Worcester?” as Healy rephrased it. He deferred on that to his colleague from SAGE and Stone Soup, Asa Needles, who’s quite familiar with ‘Toxic Soil Busters’, the youth-run worker cooperative that does free lead testing in Worcester.

Needles detailed various means of dealing with contaminated soil and processes by which funding can be sought and acquired to remedy the soil situation in Worcester. It’s conceivable that some of these types of funding could create local employment, business and university research opportunities.

Needles mentioned the process by which plants can be used to filter toxins out of the soil and then disposed of as hazardous waste (phytoremediation) and how raised beds and below-ground barriers make growing food on questionable ground possible. If it works on penthouse rooftops in New York City, it will work in Worcester’s brownfield ground. If using phytoremediation means you can’t eat what you grow on brownfield sites in Worcester for a while, maybe you can use those crops for fuel. Michigan State University has been involved in research looking into whether phytoremediation can double as biofuel production.

As Healy presented it, Warhurst’s ‘language of food’ communicates a more democratically-driven and sustainable type of economic development that as a model can be adapted to and replicated in the city of Worcester; and other northern post-industrial cities; and in other types of and more dynamic projects in other venues and “sectors”. He cited Evergreen Cooperatives, through which Cleveland Clinic, one of the biggest and best hospitals in the world, pretty much gets “all of its food, energy and laundry needs met locally.”

In his introduction Healy confessed to having an “ulterior motivation” in participating in the Sustainability Fair; to promote the 2nd Annual Solidarity and Greening Economy Conference  at Clark University next week. He also got it across that participation in this sort of ‘bottom-up’ economic development is what people do in a “functioning democracy”.


Healy’s new book Take Back the Economy, Any Time, Any Place, co-authored with Katherine Gibson and Jenny Cameron, will be published by University of Minnesota Press in 2013.

The Second Annual Solidarity Economy Conference
Clark University, 950 Main Street, Worcester, MA 01610
9am-4pm on Saturday October 13
(513) 593-2619 | info@WorcesterSAGEalliance

Eat Your Landscape, Pam Warhurst –

An Onus to Uphold

If you’re looking for a nice safe and secure means of earning a living, you can’t possibly be thinking of becoming a journalist. Not in these days of confusion about what exactly the press is or will be. Journalism as a profession has always required more courage and ‘pluck’ than many an other means of earning a living. But for those who take a journalistic code of ethics to heart, it requires more; much more.

Shady stereotypes belie an underlying truth: this job involves stepping into shadows rather than avoiding them. To be worth your salt as a journalist you must also have a degree of integrity not required by most professions in the business world, if any. Most journalists earn a living via the market economy, but all serve the higher purposes of government as members of the Fourth Estate. This role is recognized in the U.S. at least, as fulfilling a crucial function of democracy. One must have a healthy ‘moral compass’ to do this job well.

One of the reasons for that is the grey area of laws concerning and affecting journalism; right down to the First Amendment. Americans might easily assume that at least freedom of the press is set in stone here. In fact, it’s not even clear that most Americans are clear on that. It’s not just the noble pursuit of getting facts straight that can run a journalist afoul: even facts themselves can put journalists in sketchy positions. There are examples throughout history of journalists coming across conflict -as per necessity- in ways that put their work and personal well-being in jeopardy: many journalists have gone so far as to die in the line of duty.

Endurance might be another quality well-suited to journalistic pursuits. The travails of New York Times investigative reporter James Risen are a case in point currently playing out in federal appellate court. Department of Justice prosecutors have been dogging Risen to “burn” a confidential source since at least as far back as 2008; no doubt during prior investigations; definitely when he was first subpoenaed during grand jury proceedings that led to the indictment in United States v. Sterling Dec. 22 2010; and ever since Sterling’s arrest on Jan. 6 2011.

Jeffrey A. Sterling is a former CIA employee accused of divulging classified information to Risen. It appears that Risen was approached by federal agents about Sterling as far back as 2003, in a successful effort to prevent him from publishing ‘something’ in the New York Times.

Risen’s ‘cooperation’ in this and other federal cases and investigations has been relentlessly pursued for a long time. In 2005 Risen and fellow New York Times writer Eric Lichtblau published a mind-blowing series of articles on warrantless domestic surveillance. For this work Risen and Lichtblau received a Pulitzer Prize. Jane Mayer of The New Yorker says “Risen has been a target of federal leak prosecutions ever since.”

Unlike former New York Times journalist Judith Miller who spent 85 days in jail, ultimately “burned” her source and forfeited her job, Risen seems thus far to have successfully resisted the demands and commands of federal prosecutors that he divulge something, anything having to do with Sterling, but most particularly whether Sterling was his source for certain material in “State of War”, the book he published in 2006: thus far he’s avoided incarceration as well. Whether Risen collected ‘some’ material as a journalist or as an author may be legally relevant.

In early 2002 Risen published an article in the New York Times about Sterling’s experiences in the CIA concerning racial discrimination. His initial contact with Sterling was probably right after 9/11. According to that article Sterling was “let go” in October 2001 and “the terrorist attacks [of 9/11] occurred just as the agency was dismissing him.” Item number 23 of the indictment asserts that Sterling disclosed classified information (to Risen) by November, 2001, and includes references to a slew of phone calls and emails between the two following that.

A press release about Sterling’s arrest reported by Robert Chesney on Jan. 6, 2011 notes that “according to the indictment” Sterling “was aware by June 2003 of an FBI investigation into his disclosure of national defense information.” It’s not too much of a stretch to surmise that Risen (being a national security correspondent specializing in intelligence) was well aware that he was being ‘observed’ by that time as well.

Indeed: Politico’s Josh Gerstein reported in early February 2011 that federal prosecutors in Sterling’s case had copies of Risen’s private credit reports, personal banking, credit card records, phone records, and information about his travel arrangements; all of which was being turned over to the court. According to Gerstein Risen was not shocked to hear this, but told Politico that it made him feel “like a target of spying.”

Gerstein also mentions something that would be alarming to anyone with a grasp of the rationale for laws, statutes, and administrative regulations designed to protect the role journalists play in U.S. democracy: shield laws, the legal liability of journalists’ in breach of agreement with confidential informants, and laws providing for journalist privileges and right of access. “First Amendment advocates” he says, are concerned that “those records . . . . could potentially expose a wide array of Risen’s sources and confidential contacts— information that might fall beyond the initial investigation that led to Sterling’s indictment.”

It’s been over 11 years since this all started. On Sept. 24 Risen’s attorney Joel Kurtzberg filed papers in response to yet another filing in Sterling vs. U.S made by federal prosecutors on Sept. 17; yet another attempt to get Risen to breach whatever contract he may have with Sterling.

Risen’s marathon resistance to the Justice Department’s attempts –throughout two presidency’s now- to coerce him into breaching an alleged agreement with a confidential source represents an admirable testament to his commitment to following a journalistic code of ethics –and protect what it represents. It sounds awfully complicated but really in this instance it’s very simple; As the Society of Professional Journalists’ put it in their code of ethics: “keep your promises.” Sometimes that is a helluva lot easier said than done.


Appeal  11-5028 Doc: 73 Filed 09/17/201

Appeal: 11-5028 Doc: 74 Filed: 09/24/2012

Feds Spy on Reporter in Leak Probe. Josh Gerstein, Politico, February 25, 2011

Former CIA Officer Indicted for Disclosing National Defense Info to Reporter. Robert Chesney, Lawfare, January 6, 201

Sterling Indictment. Case 1:10-cr-00485-LMB Document 1 Filed 12/22/10

Fired by C.I.A., He Says Agency Practiced Bias. James Risen, New York Times, March 2, 200

Subpoena Issued to Writer in C.I.A.-Iran Leak Case. Charlie Savage, New York Times, May 24, 2011

House Democrats ask that Libby grant Judith Miller a special waiver to testify.Last in a series of reports from Murray Waas on his blog Whatever Already!, August 8, 2005 (and going back)

Telling Secrets: How a leak became a scandal. Nicholas Lemann, The New Yorker, November 7, 2005

Times and Reporter Reach Agreement on Her Departure. Katherine Q. Seelye, New York Times, November 9, 2005

James Risen’s Subpoena. Jane Mayer, The New Yorker, May 24, 201

The 2006 Pulitzer Prize Winners in National Reporting: James Risen and Eric Lichtblau. (the five articles in the series are here)

Former CIA officer Jeffrey A. Sterling charged in Leak Probe. Greg Miller, Washington Post, January 6, 2011 confirming that “Author A” in the indictment is Risen, and that “dozens” of alleged emails and phone calls between Risen and Sterling are described in detail and as dating back to 2002 in the the indictment

Classified Defendant No. 1. Amy Davidson, The New Yorker, January 6, 2011

Times Reporter Subpoenaed Over Source for Book, Philip Shenon, New York Times, February 1, 2008

Reporters Without Borders: For Freedom of Information (see the ‘Press Freedom Index’ –updated annually)

Why The First Amendment (and Journalism) Might Be in Trouble. Ken Dautrich and John Bare, Nieman Reports, Summer 2005 “Only 51 percent of 9th and 12th graders agree that newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories . . . “

Definition of ‘Fourth Estate’, the Free Online Dictionary

Integrity. Damian Cox, Marguerite La Caze, and Michael Levine, © 2011. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics

WSU and WAM: A Promising Relationship Between Institutions

photo: Luc Viatour /

If the provocative description of a new plan unveiled this week at the opening event of inaugural celebrations is any indication, students as well as faculty at Worcester State University can look forward to an expansive broadening of art-related offerings and opportunities. This ambitious plan was formally introduced on September 19th by President Barry Maloney and delightfully described in the presentation “University and the Museum: A Dynamic Partnership” by Worcester Art Museum Director Matthias Waschek.

To a packed house, professor Kristin Waters introduced Waschek, who in turn described Waters as “our point person” in this new endeavor. Waters will be the first Presidential Fellow for Arts, Education and Community at WSU, as announced in a Fall 2012 message from the president. There he described her new position “working in cooperation with the Worcester Art Museum on a variety of initiatives including research and curriculum opportunities, joint projects and grant opportunities”, and invited members of the WSU community to “reach out” to Waters with “thoughts and ideas.” Waters has long been involved with the museum and within the community and has an impressive history of successful grant writing. (CV) She can be contacted through the Philosophy Department.

Taking issues of a globalizing economy into account, Waschek went on to explain this project in terms of the many possibilities involved for students of multiple disciplines; a smorgasbord of innovative and valuable opportunities both academic and extracurricular, extending into the local community and beyond. These experiences would both inherently improve students’ prospects in the labor market and provide well-earned material for ‘killer’ resumes.

All this Waschek described as happening via a pooling of resources including the museum’s extensive art collection and library. The latter was aptly explained in terms of the cost of acquisitions to institutions which any student at this point in the semester still reeling from the cost of required reading individually purchased, could surely ‘feel’.

Notably, on the subject of pooling resources, Waschek put a distinct emphasis on the prospect of seeking joint-funding. He pointed out that “funders nowadays are looking at requests that come from institutions that want to work together.” If that trend represents a reflection of the tightening pressure between economic and political realities thrust upon educational institutions, this intriguing collaboration certainly represents a creative countermeasure and viable solution.

passing shadow of an idea

Hello world!