Dealing with the Unknown Unknowns

Former OU Dining Director David Annis reflects on his career transition to Housing Director.

It is unusual for a campus dining director to move to the housing side, despite the close association the positions hold in the minds of college students and parents and the fact that most operate with a similar business model, generating their own operating revenue as auxiliaries. We asked David Annis to contrast the two roles.

“I'd worked side by side with housing directors over many years, but probably never appreciated the full extent of what they did, just as they probably never fully appreciated what we in dining services did,” Annis observes.

He says many campus dining directors have asked him which is the harder job.

“Each has its own challenges. Without a doubt, foodservice is more physically challenging. It all about business and taking care of customers and daily deadlines. Housing doesn't have that many deadlines, but you are much more involved with lifestyle and interpersonal issues — students who have issues with apartments, roommates, floor problems. These kinds of things exist around the clock and you never really escape from them.

“As a foodservice director, I was certainly very conscious of the health and safety of our students. But at the end of the day, if you've trained your people correctly, you can leave the job at the campus.

“In housing, you don't know if you are reaching the troubled students, if a student has depression or another affliction. You are responsible for students' health and safety in a much broader way — in the face of possible fire, tornados, flu epidemics, a whole slew of possible events. As a former defense secretary observed a few years ago, you have the ‘known knowns, the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns.’ We worry all the time about the unknown unknowns.”

Annis' goals? “As we do our strategic planning now, I hope to find ways to bring the two groups together so they can collaborate more effectively,” he says.