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Library stacks? No, that's my office.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / July 16, 2002

The stacks of student papers, clippings, and research had reached epic proportions in Prof. Ronald Andersen's office, teetering on his desk, filing cabinet, and office chairs, threatening to topple at any moment.

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Even getting around the desk without knocking anything over was getting tricky. Colleagues were beginning to notice.

There was only one thing to do: Call Dorothy.

Within higher education, Dorothy Breininger is winning a squeaky-clean reputation as a clutter-buster without equal. A five-foot-tall former gymnast and former executive assistant to deans at Northeastern University in Boston and the University of California at Los Angeles, Ms. Breininger has morphed herself into a compact white tornado.

Since 1996, she has used her organizational skills to help hopelessly swamped professors, entire academic departments, deans' offices, and recently an entire college to slay their paper dragons.

It's clearly a service that academia wants. Her Los Angeles-based company, the Center for Organization and Goal Planning, has been growing at 300 percent a year. A big part of that growth came from helping higher education conquer its tidal wave of incoming paper, she says.

But the stereotype of the messy professor just isn't fair, she says. She cites a phenomenon in which budget cuts eliminate professors' assistants and even their interns. And the result is clutter that rests squarely atop what she calls: the "self-sufficiency fallacy."

A computer as organizer? Please.

Computers with calendars and hand-held digital assistants don't take the place of someone to help with filing and administration – and they help produce a lot of paper, too, she argues. Also, filing is not a priority for many professors who put other things ahead of it. The result is loss of productivity and self-esteem when professors become overwhelmed.

"We're asking professors to teach, advise, research, and maybe serve on a few campus committees," she says. "Now, with budget cuts, they also have to raise their own funds for research. We're asking them to do all this, yet be their own administrative assistant. It's just not fair."

That was pretty much the situation facing Dr. Andersen, who, when Ms. Breininger met him four years ago, was a Ph.D. adviser to a half-dozen graduate students and chairman of his department. He also taught several classes, wrote articles, raised funds, and did research.

"He's doing all that – and he's checking e-mail, voice mail, opening letters, grading papers, creating Power Point presentations for class, talking with faculty and students, and trying to have a life at home," she says. "It's too much."

To whittle down the stacks of paper that stood three and four feet high on every open surface, Breininger brought in two assistants. Andersen left for his class and returned three hours later. The office was immaculate. The 27 boxes of material removed from the office remained hidden from Andersen – until he had time to go through each one with her to decide what to toss and what he really needed.