Keeping campus running
Keeping Michigan State’s complex, 5,200-acre campus up and running around the clock isn’t easy. But Ron Flinn and the team of Infrastructure Planning and Facilities professionals he leads make it look that way.
“I work for everybody on this campus,” says Flinn, vice president for Strategic Infrastructure Planning and Facilities, formerly known as the Physical Plant. “I like to think that our team provides the environment for the magic that takes place in the research labs and the classrooms.”
Flinn, who has been at MSU for more than 50 years, began working at the Physical Plant on campus as a student. Upon graduating with his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1960, he was hired as a full-time employee and has served in a variety of professional roles since then.
As part of the critical team that works mostly behind the scenes, Flinn has been instrumental in the design and construction of nearly 75 percent of the campus buildings and infrastructure completed during his tenure, and he sees much more in store for MSU’s world-class facilities that have been built to last.
“MSU has an unlimited life, and we need to put in quality stuff for the next generation and for generations to come,” says Flinn.
My name is Ron Flinn. I work for everybody on this campus. I’d like to think that our team provides the environment for the magic that takes place in the research labs and the classrooms.
The skill set within the physical plant, as one fellow said, “If you have a problem, somebody in the physical plant knows how to solve it.” A problem with your car, a problem with your house, a problem with your boat. There’s somebody here in the physical plant who knows how to figure that out.
It helps to grow up tough, and the first 10 years of my life was without electricity. You come out of that kind of an environment and you see everybody working. Most die before they retire. You have that as a frame of reference, and I decided I didn’t want to continue dairy farming under the conditions that we were doing it in central New York.
I decided to be an engineer actually in my junior year in high school and I was all of 15. I got out of high school when I was 16 and so I was on this quest to become an engineer, civil engineer.
I’ve been blessed with a great career and it continues to be fun or I wouldn’t be here. I have, I think, the best physical plant team in this country. The folks are extremely talented and skilled. I can take you in any one of our units and show you people who are actually not appreciated as fully as they should be because a lot of the things they do are after hours and out of sight.
When the custodial department first was reporting to me, early ‘80s, when I went out to visit them on their shift, being in their building on their shift, I was told repeatedly that nobody at my level had ever done that. That was another expression that I thought that they were doing very important work. I refer to them as a professional group of floor-care people. They’re not janitors, and they’re not custodians. They’re really in floor care, and also to take care of the folks in the building. They’re strongly encouraged to get to know the people in the building. It’s interesting, those who will do that find out they have some great friends in the ranks of the faculty.
I am blessed, I believe, when I have people below me and above me asking me not to leave. I started here in September, late September of 1957. It’s a little bit better place than when I arrived, and it’s a much stronger team than when I arrived. I’ve told people when it stops being fun I will leave. I’ve told other people that I will retire and that’s sometime after the next Rose Bowl victory. No pressure on the coach here.
We’re not building an auto plant here, we’re not building some short-lived, even a military base. They have a limited life. MSU has an unlimited life and we need to put in quality stuff for the next generation and the generations to come.
See stories of Spartan alumni, faculty, and students who are making a difference in ways both big and small.
The MSU Museum's 2014 exhibit "From the Margins to the Core: Latino Workers in the Nation's Auto Industry" helped earn a 2015 MotorCities National Heritage Area Awards of Excellence.