A call to action

Roger T. Howe rthowe at stanford.edu
Wed Aug 1 07:23:51 PDT 2012


Needless to say, I would have appreciated your contacting me first with 
your concerns rather than sending your email to the SNF community.  I 
would be happy to meet with you and introduce you to John Bumgarner, the 
Operations Director, who's been here for a little over one year now.  We 
are working hard to make the SNF a more effective nanofab, with 
significant investments in infrastructure upgrades and new tools by NSF 
and Stanford.

The recent rate increases were discussed with the user community. The 
recent rate changes reduced the hourly rate for the many academic users 
who don't cap.  In order to make the net result revenue-neutral, we 
increased the cap, which increased the cost for heavy users, including 
several members of my own research group.

You needn't be concerned about any retributions from the SNF staff; if 
you feel that there are issues about your treatment in the SNF, please 
bring them to my attention.  I've cc'ed the Dean of Engineering, Jim 
Plummer, to let him know your concerns.

Roger Howe

On 8/1/12 1:07 AM, Ben Jian wrote:
> Dear SNF lab members,
> I have been an industrial user of the lab for about ten years.At the 
> beginning I was a regular user.Now with the dwindling financial 
> resources at my disposal, I use the lab once in a while.As head of a 
> small startup company, every dollar has to count.I feel compelled to 
> write this letter to the entire community.I am writing to you because 
> we face a major crisis.
> Am I the only one who is outraged by the recent 30.2% rate increase in 
> the middle of a recession?To top it off,this was followed shortly by 
> the announcement of two new staff hires.A true budget-balancing 
> measure would include a serious round of layoffs and other 
> cost-cutting measures.Instead, we are witnessing the reverse - robust 
> hiring.At SNF,it is easy to hire people, but nearly impossible to let 
> go.This staff addition paves the way for the next round of major rate 
> increase.Thus the vicious cycle continues.Unless we SNF users take 
> action and stop this, the vicious cycle of rate increases will never end.
>   10.1% annual SNF rate increase over eight years
> In December 2004, the fully capped rate was $3312 (without overhead) 
> for industrial users.In December 2012,it will become $6000.In eight 
> years, user fee has seen an 81.1% increase!That is a rate of 10.1% per 
> year growth over eight years.With overhead, the monthly capped rate 
> will be a staggering $9420 in December.That is mind bogging 
> incompetence!The user fee has been treated as an ATM machine.The SNF 
> is in serious jeopardy of becoming irrelevant with the latest round of 
> irresponsible rate increase.
> The people in charge of nominating SNF management have given us one 
> bad administration after another.The Nishi/Rissman administration was 
> the one who gave us the 40.6% rate increase in 2005.Just to show how 
> arrogant and how much they took users for granted, the big fee 
> increase was actually made retroactive by one month!Not to mention 
> that in 2004, there was no hour limit in lab usage.Since then, it has 
> been 160 hours.
> I don't know the current operations director of SNF at all. However, 
> based on the recent actions of announcing a 30% fee increase followed 
> immediately by the hiring of not one but two new staff members, it 
> shows the sheer insensitivity and cluelessness of the management style.
> The SNF administrations have been characterized by cronyism and gross 
> mismanagement.This is a serious waste of taxpayer's dollar.
>   Ideas for reform
> The SNF should be run like a business, because it serves a sizeable 
> community of small businesses with limited research budgets.We are 
> given significant supporting funds from the NSF.I want to see 
> significant cost saving compared to similar university labs.The SNF 
> must be run like a lean and mean organization.
> The SNF director preferably should come from inside SNF and should 
> have regular job responsibilities in addition to managing people.There 
> are some SNF staff members who can do an excellent job of running the 
> lab, yet they have been passed up time and again in favor of expensive 
> people managers from outside research labs, first HP Labs, now SRI 
> Labs.They gave us 40% in 2005 and 30% rate increase in 2012, respectively.
> The sizeable number of PhD-level staff members can be a poor use of 
> precious resources; SNF is not a place where there is a continuing 
> demand for such high level skills.If there is a need for high level 
> skill, hiring should be on a temporary or part-time basis.With the 
> talent that the Bay area is known for, it would be really easy to get 
> top talent at a fraction of the cost of a full time staff.
> The SNF could learn a few lessons from the Microfab at 
> Berkeley.Instead of staff members, they use students and audio/visual 
> media to train new users.This is a lab where things get done, all 
> while keeping user fees in check.
>   Demand change
> Before SNF goes down the tubes, maybe there is something we can 
> do.Maybe we can rise up and demand change.Dear lab members:We need to 
> take action.We deserve better.
> Take back SNF before the latest round of increase ruins SNF for 
> good.Rebel against this incompetent SNF administration.Take this 
> opportunity to bring real change to SNF that's long overdue.Overhaul 
> SNF management completely.
> I suggest:
> 1.We demand the out of touch SNF operations director's immediate 
> resignation.
> 2.We the industrial users must have power in the SNF decision making, 
> instead of "taxation without representation". I for one could do a 
> much better job of managing SNF's finance if given the chance.We need 
> to form a new decision making committee for SNF consisting of three 
> equal voting blocks of SNF staff, faculty and industrial members.All 
> financial decisions must be approved by this committee and SNF 
> management must be accountable to this committee.
> 3.We need to "Starve the beast".Abolish the 30.2% rate increase.There 
> should be no rate increase for three years, then 3% each year as 
> previously agreed.SNF must learn to live within its means.Examine 
> every corner for cost saving. Control cost through internal attrition 
> if not layoff.SNF needs to become every ounce efficient, each person 
> wearing multiple hats.
> I am wary of the repercussions of this letter.Last time in 2004 after 
> objecting to the big rate increase as a whistle blower, I was singled 
> out by Nishi/Rissman for retribution.Rissman made a lot of rules just 
> for me with the threat of permanently banning me from SNF.This time I 
> want to make clear that if SNF tries to do the same,I will let the 
> entire SNF community know.
> If there is no significant improvement, I for one will lobby NSF to 
> move its funding elsewhere such as Berkeley.The double digit rate 
> increase over eight years speaks for itself about the gross 
> incompetence of the SNF management.I will make a strong case to NSF 
> that SNF through its total mismanagement has stifled the growth of 
> small businesses, which are the job growth engine of this economy. I 
> will make sure Berkeley gets a copy of my letter to bolster their case 
> of why Berkeley should get the NSF funding instead.
> Yours truly,
> Ben Jian, PhD
> President
> Arrayed Fiberoptics Corporation

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