Chair Testimony to the Board Feb. 19, 2015

Good morning Madame Chair, Regents, President Gamble …

My name is Monique Musick, the Chair of Staff Alliance. It is my challenge and privilege to try to portray the needs, concerns, successes and inspirations of the nearly 3,000 dedicated and amazing staff who work at the University of Alaska.

First, it is my pleasure to welcome the new board members today and I want to convey our sincere thanks for your service. There is an incredible amount of work laid before you, no doubt about that. You all have been selected for your leadership skills, insight and belief in higher education. I am grateful for your experiences and dedication as we forge ahead during these difficult times.

The university community is looking to you now for leadership through these transformative years. A few years ago we began the Shaping Alaska’s Future initiative to improve service and efficiency, expand partnerships and better serve the needs of our students and the state. Just these short years later, what was a proactive move during a positive funding climate has now become a crisis response plan.

We need to hear from leadership just what that plan is. Are we going to join together more, combining program support, technology, software and services on a systemwide level? Will we see uniform adaptation of systems such as e-mail, e-Learning/Blackboard, common calendars and reduced redundancy between universities and Statewide? Or will we be loosening up the system presence and giving campuses greater autonomy? We eagerly wait to hear how we are to envision the University of Alaska of tomorrow so we can begin doing what it will take to make that happen today.

The past few months have been such a flurry of budget talk, policy and emergency regulation changes, lost benefits, ever changing funding projections, anticipation, worry and conjecture. There is so much emphasis on money right now it is sometimes hard to remember that we are truly here to deliver higher education. We are not a business, we are a university, and our students and mission are priority one. Decisions must be made with the best interests of students in mind; programs valued for more than their market value; and the unquantifiable benefits of a good education measured as well as the bottom line. Alas, it all comes with a cost.

As staff we are extremely vulnerable to the impact of budget reductions. We know the university cannot afford to lose the quality faculty at the front lines in the classrooms and research arenas. They are crucial to our students, accreditation and our reputation as a top-notch university. But that means it is administration and support staff who bear a large portion of the cutbacks. We don’t even know how many yet, but there will soon be hundreds of staff members suddenly needing to find new employment in a very challenging job market. This is very troublesome, and part of the reason we are so desperate for transparency and straight talk so we can adequately prepare for the road ahead. And also why we suggest in our response to the layoff regulation change to assist employees in finding new positions anywhere in the UA system.

In just the past couple months we have seen the introduction of a furlough policy, the reduction of layoff benefits, a glaciation in hiring important recently-vacated positions, and a steady flow of bad news about the state budget deficit. To say that staff morale is at an epic low is an understatement. There are fewer of us, doing more, and that is only going to become more drastic as we move forward.

We cannot ask for more money, that is true, but we can ask for a clearer picture of how we plan to weather this storm and what we are going to look like when it’s through. We need that conversation to be open, the process to be scrutinizable, our ideas and suggestions to be listened to, and most of all, to feel valued more by our contributions than our cost.

Staff are some of the most important university ambassadors and reputation carriers—we cannot afford to let lost faith in leadership or the institution overpower our messages about all the good the university does.

We have several key leadership positions either currently being recruited for or opening soon. This is a perfect opportunity to re-evaluate some of the business-as-usual practices that have lead us to the point we are today with an unsustainable budget. After a recent budget forum I had a long talk with a colleague about the necessity to hire top executive positions at nationally competitive salaries when the vast majority of staff at the university are working under market wages. Does the quality of the pool really go down that much to offer $200,000 instead of $300,000 and thereby save a couple other crucial positions? We have qualified leaders right here in the state, in our own system, who are ready and willing to step up to the challenge of leading the university through this recession more out of commitment to UA than the enticement of a salary. Can we openly discuss how low we can go instead of how high? It is worth consideration, as are so many other crucial decisions that need to be made so soon. I just hope that all decisions will be made with respect and compassion for all those who will be impacted.

One element that is always critical and yet never seems to be effective enough is good communication. I am pleased to say that we have recently made great strides in our two-way governance communications. As Chair I can now push out critical messages to all staff in the system via a dedicated e-mail list. It was recently tested and so far proven successful. On our website we have added new forms for the collection of suggestions and feedback, responses to proposed policy changes, and even a place to brag about the great work being done by staff throughout the system.

Speaking of recognizing great staff, tomorrow is the deadline for the annual Staff Make Students Count award nominations. We will soon be selecting one staff member from each administrative unit who has earned distinction among his or her peers for their contributions to student success and learning. They will be recognized at the June meeting. I believe you will be amazed by the effort that so many dedicated staff put in for the sake of our students. I am excited to see who this year’s winners will be.

In conclusion, whether this is your first meeting or your 100th, this is a challenging time to be here and a difficult position to hold. I hope that we as staff are able to participate in the fullest extent possible and to truly display our value to this university system.

I thank you for investing your time in leading this great university into its next phase.

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Staff Alliance response to proposed revisions to R04.07.110, Layoff, Recall and Release and R04.08.060.G. Grievance

DATE:     February 17, 2015
TO:          Erik Seastedt, Chief Human Resources Officer
FROM:    Monique Musick, Staff Alliance Chair

RE:           Staff Alliance response to proposed revisions to R04.07.110, Layoff, Recall and Release and R04.08.060.G. Grievance

Staff Alliance is grateful for the opportunity to respond to recommended changes to the layoff and grievance policies despite the changes being emergency in nature and subject to rapid implementation.

The fiscal necessity of these changes is unfortunate, but understandable. There are some concerns over some of the editorial changes being made at the same time, and we respectfully submit the following feedback for consideration.
Section A. Reasons for Layoff

  1. A suggested edit would be to substitute “budgeted” for “anticipated” in this second clause. It provides clarity that the lack of sufficient funds is being evaluated in context of the official budget development process of the university and not based purely on outside trends or projections. Employees would have the benefit of seeing how much and where cuts were being made in the budget leading to the decision for layoffs.

Section C. Selection for Layoffs
1-a. Seniority should be defined, is it years of service as a vested employee or years of service in a unit? It is a little vague.

1-c. A number of staff raised concerns over the addition of language indicating “previously documented” performance. The reason is many employees have never had a written evaluation. While on the one hand this provides protection from being penalized for poor performance without cause, it makes it difficult to support claims of good performance either if there is no documented record of employee performance. If there were no compelling reasons to change this we would not recommend making the change.

  1. While the intention is to add an additional layer of oversight to the layoff approval process, this change takes away the authority of the department head or administrative unit and makes it sound like the decision to layoff isn’t made by the department, but by a Vice Chancellor and Human Resources officer. Since neither one of them would likely have a relation with the employee, it feels like the employee is being treated like a number. Departments need to be involved in the layoff process to ensure continuity in the institution’s operations. We also need a clear definition of “authorized administrator” included in glossary.

Section D. Notice of Layoff
Many staff are expressing anger over the benefit being reduced right when it is most necessary. That said, the fiscal situation is understood, and it is recognized that this is being enacted in an effort to be more responsive, more flexible and to save money, thereby reducing the overall volume of layoffs necessary. While understandable fiscally, it has a severe impact on employee morale. It has also raised questions about the differences between exempt and non-exempt treatment. Others have asked if similar changes will be made to non-retention policy that still has the one month/six month notice.

  1. We wish to add “or on administrative leave” to this clause. There may be a need to keep an employee on following their last day of work in order to ensure continuity in a department. This change would allow a little extra flexibility for a department to ensure critical service coverage.

Section E. Alternatives to Layoff

  1. There is concern that this is a move solely for the purpose of reducing the amount of permanent status employees at the university. It adds to the sense of distrust and unease amongst staff. A term-funded position can be easily let go by having the contract not renewed. If that happens, that employee receives none of the layoff benefits that are part of these regulations (notice, tuition waiver, internal candidate, internal move before layoff date, etc.) leaving them even more vulnerable. Extensive use of term-funded positions for long-serving employees was already a contention point between staff and administrators of many large units of the university prior to this year, and is regularly brought up in governance meetings.
  2. On first read it looked like this was an edit that made it easier for a layoff employee to move throughout the system. On second read it appears that it is only reducing duplicate language, but the response was really positive among staff that this regulation may make it easier to find a new position at the university—even in a different MAU. For folks at Statewide moving to a campus, from a community campus to a main one, or for persons willing to move locations to stay in the university’s employment, we would support striking the limitations of transferring in the same university/MAU and encourage systemwide flexibility.

Why not consider potential layoff employees for movement to a position at a higher pay grade? There are a lot of people who work positions for which they are overqualified – they may have the education and/or experience to work a position that is higher than where they currently are. They should be given consideration for these positions as well as it is contingent upon qualifications and ability to do the work.
Section F. Conditions Governing Benefits and Privileges While in Layoff Status

  1. If there is going to be a reduction in the length of time like this, we might want to counter with raising the number of credits to 15/semester and capped at 30 total. This would at least be in line with the desire for people to complete degrees in a reasonable period of time, since most degree programs at the baccalaureate level require a total of 120 credits.

Section I. Review of Layoff or Recall Decision
This revision has raised the most serious concerns. In particular the change in C-2 combined with this change does not lead to an impartial review—it is a review by the one who approved it in the first place. They would not be in a position to make an ethical review.

Removing the grievance process removes the only policy assurance that layoff decisions will be made in good faith and with adequate consideration. Subjecting layoff decisions to the possibility of investigation and a fair hearing encourages those with hiring authority to exercise care in the making of those decisions.

Layoffs are bad enough, but they could at least be tolerable if the process is perceived as fair and transparent. This transparency can only be achieved by including a credible process for challenging questionable layoff decisions.

In I-1, employees need to be assured they will have access to evidence for making a case for review after receiving layoff notice—especially if offered pay out in lieu of notice. Supervisors laying off an employee cannot block their ability to access and assemble supporting evidence (in their offices or on work computers etc.) to question the layoff decision.

In I-2 clarify that the reviewer is not the employee’s immediate supervisor (in addition to resolving the conflict with C-2).

The changes made to the language in Paragraph I-5 took away the set response time of five days after receiving a request for review and left the review process wide open to any length of time. Reviews could drag on for months with this new language, which may unnecessarily impact an aggrieved employee, who rightfully filed a review that was found to be in his or her favor, especially for a non-exempt employees with only four weeks to work with.

The reviewer should be required to have a meeting with the employee to discuss the issue before any decisions are made. The employee should have the right to make their case in person–and to explain any materials that were submitted as the reviewer may not know or realize what context each piece of evidence has.
Section G. Recall
If an administrative unit finds they’re able to recall an employee, they should have the ability to determine their own most pressing need; whether it was the last person laid off or the very first person laid off. Having a vacancy for an extended period of time may end up being a greater deficit to a unit than a short vacancy of a theoretically more critical position. Departments should be able to exercise some judgment here.
Definitions
The definition of “administrative unit” is so vague it almost ceases to be a definition. It needs to be clear what is identified as an administrative unit.

Please define “authorized administrator.”

If we add in the clarification about administrative leave in Section D clause 3, we would want to add “or on administrative leave” to the definition J-3 as well.

Thank you for allowing Staff Alliance to respond to these regulation changes.

cc: Patrick Gamble, President, University of Alaska

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Proposed changes to University of Alaska layoff regulations

On the afternoon of Wednesday Feb. 4, Staff Alliance and System Governance received from Chief Human Resources Officer Erik Seastedt proposed changes to University of Alaska layoff regulations. As opposed to policy, which require Board of Regents approval to change, regulation changes require only the signature of the President after a review by governance. We have been given until February 17 to respond.

In brief the regulation changes affect:

  • The reasons for layoff
  • Final determination of layoff selection process
  • Halving the length of notice or pay in lieu of notice for exempt employees (reducing from 6 months to 3 months)
  • Alternatives to layoffs
  • The grievance process is replaced with a review process

A copy of the proposed regulation changes as well as a form for collecting your suggested edits, feedback and concerns is available here: http://www.alaska.edu/governance/items-under-review/

CHRO Seasted will be at our Staff Alliance meeting Feb. 10 to answer questions and discuss our proposed edits. The agenda and link to join the meeting is posted here: http://www.alaska.edu/governance/

Some context

Over the next few years the university anticipates a series of significant funding reductions. The estimated reduction in State General Funds in FY16, combined with fixed cost increases, puts the university at a $42.9 million loss. That’s expected to be followed again, and again, in FY17 and FY18 for an estimated grand total of $90.9 million in actual reductions and a cumulative impact of reductions and rising costs of $136.6 million in just three years. By comparison last years’ entire university state appropriation was about $370.6 million.

With these deep cuts in funding it is only logical that there will be significant reductions in staffing as well. It seems a really lousy time to have reductions made to the length of notice and or pay in lieu of notices, considering that most of us feel more vulnerable than ever, but this change, like the recent addition of a furlough policy, is trying to reduce the total number of layoffs necessary. We simply cannot afford to have people in positions for six months that have already been identified for layoff, nor afford to send everyone out with a full six months pay.

After reviewing the proposed changes and speaking with CHRO Seastedt, we have identified a few real benefits in the changes, but we have also found areas we wish to revise or clarify. The way that the changes to the review process are currently written we find unacceptable and will be working with administration and legal counsel to change.

First the good news.

A number of changes in section E, alternatives to layoffs, make it easier to move into appropriate vacant positions regardless of campus or university. It requires HR offices to assist potential layoff employees and employees in layoff status to find employment. It also makes layoff employees priority in consideration for internal hires.

A change in section C, selection for Layoffs, adds a higher level of oversight to the final determination of the order for layoff. The intention behind this change is to add a layer of protection from biases of a supervisor or department head in the selection process. There is some concern that this change diminishes the authority of departments and we anticipate further discussion and possible revisions in this area.

The hard part

The reduction of the length of notice, or pay in lieu of notice, for exempt employees from six months to three months is financially and practically driven. The revisions as proposed were intended to be signed in March and to go into affect for exempt employees on August 1, 2015. Essentially to give employees six months notice that their layoff benefits will be reduced to three months instead of six. There was no change to the notice for nonexempt employees.

The truly troubling part(s)

As your staff leaders we are truly troubled by the proposed changes under section I, review of layoff or recall decision, and will be working very hard to oppose them and to find a solution that affords employees our right for due process.

According the CHRO Seastedt the intent was to prevent a slew of time intensive hearings, especially should all members of a department selected for layoff decide to grieve their determination, when all that could be grieved, even under current policy, is the process by which the layoff is determined. (e.g. did the process follow the rules in section A) So they substituted a review instead of a grievance request and removed layoffs from grievance regulations. The revision provides for a more expedient layoff review process when appropriate.

In cases where an employee asserts grounds that require a due process review, a hearing will be provided, as in the existing grievance procedure.  Regardless of the process that is used, the review will still result in a recommendation to the chancellor (or chief human resource officer, for statewide employees) who remains the decision-maker in layoff reviews.

However, when combined with the change in final determination in section C, we now have a regulation that says your only recourse for challenging your layoff selection is to go to the person who approved it in the first place. This is appears to be a violation of our rights to due process and a mistake resulting from making to many changes at once without fully analyzing the cumulative impacts of these adjustments. This is particularly troubling since the problem that this is trying to prevent is a hypothetical one at best.

Timeline

As stated above we were given an extremely short timeline for response. The good and worthy intention of that was to give employees adequate warning that layoff benefits were being reduced so they could begin to prepare financially. However that well-intentioned deadline doesn’t even begin to allow the time needed for the governance system to review and respond. Considering the very troubling issue highlighted above, in addition to numerous other concerns and suggested edits not even addressed here, we will be requesting more time from the President. The need for expediency does not supersede the need to make these changes correctly and in the best interest of employees and the university.

This discussion does not address every change in regulation, nor every suggested edit that we have identified this far. I encourage you to take moment to review the changes yourself and to submit your suggestions through the online response form: http://www.alaska.edu/governance/items-under-review/

A note on this communication

(Applies to the e-mail version.) This is a new e-mail list, overseen by the system governance office, intended to improve the process of distributing information and when combined with the new centralized response collection improves the speed with which governance can facilitate two-way communication flow. This does not supersede local governance connections or communications and will only be used for items of great importance.

It is a pleasure to serve as your representative and all of us in governance will be working hard to be your voice during these times of rapid change. Please feel free to contact me or your local governance representative with further questions. Thank you for your service to the university.

Best Regards,
Monique Musick
Staff Alliance Chair

c.c Also e-mailed to University Staff

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Feedback requested on proposed new policy

Chief Information Technology Officer Karl Kowalski asked Governance leaders for feedback on a proposed mobile device security policy. I had the opportunity to hear a discussion about IT risk analysis during the last Board of Regents meeting. The greatest threat to protecting sensitive information is people transporting and sharing sensitive information on their laptops or mobile devices and being careless about security. He wants to hear back from us by Jan. 15. Please contribute any suggestions, concerns or feedback. Thanks!

Rationale: The proliferation of mobile devices on our campuses utilizing our information resources has necessitated the development of policy regarding use of those devices and protection of University information assets, intellectual property and research.

Kowalski proposes the following policy. Regulation will follow and then guidelines for specific tools and practices for protecting mobile assets.

P02.07.066. Mobile Device Security Policy

University employees and students who use a laptop computer or mobile device (e.g. portable hard drives, USB flash drives, smartphones, tablets) are responsible for the university data stored, processed or transmitted via that computer or mobile device and for following the security requirements set forth in this policy and other applicable Information Resources Policies regardless of whether that device is the property of the university or the individual.

The use of unprotected mobile devices to access or store non-public information is prohibited regardless of whether or not such equipment is owned or managed by the university.

The Chief Information Technology Officer (CITO) is responsible for coordinating with the campuses in the development of consistent measures and business practices for ensuring the security of sensitive data on mobile devices.

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Smoke Free Tobacco Free Policy Passed

Today the Board of Regents approved a policy banning smoking and tobacco products on UA campuses. Chancellors have until Dec. 2015 to implement this change. One of the biggest concerns has been enforcement of the policy. We’d like to hear your ideas and suggestions.

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Testimony to the Board of Regents, Dec. 10, 2014

Monique Musick
Staff Alliance Chair

Good morning Madame Chair, President Gamble, and Regents

While there is a lot of business on the agenda these next two days, it feels like we’ve finally reached the conclusion to many long processes, discussions and hours of work. To those members of the board who are nearing the end of your term I wish to extend heartfelt thanks for your commitment and service.

Tobacco free campuses have been discussed for years. This time the Board will take action, and draft regulations have been put forth from the President. Staff and System Governance groups support the restrictions up to a point. There is still interest in the possibility of designated areas beyond personal vehicles, and I hope that all testimony and input will be listened to and valued even if it seems the solution is already in sight, and that any final decision reflects that.

Similarly, there has been a lot of effort put in to drafting regulations for the furlough policy. This was a great example of a productive working relationship between administration and those affected by policy…. But again I must emphasize how much we hope it is a tool that is not employed.

Staff Alliance is working to improve our record collection, communications, and transition planning, but cannot elevate the governance processes, or the speed of decision making, without beneficial relationships with administration too. Sending an e-mail to governance groups with a proposal and a deadline is not nearly as effective as coming to a meeting, discussing it with the representatives, framing it so it is understood, and allowing time for discussion, the collection of feedback and formation of a fully-informed response. More can be done to improve the speed at which things move through governance, but it is going to take a better understanding of needs and timelines among all parties.

The addition of a tracking system to the Shaping Alaska’s Future Website for the initiatives being investigated or implemented by the Summit Team is a great move toward transparency and communication. It will help minimize surprise, and adds another avenue of communication between administration and everyone else. This is a very positive move.

There are still instances where staff wish to have input, but don’t. By example, the Vice President of Academic Affairs and Research also oversees the governance office. While the Faculty Alliance – who clearly have multiple layers of interest in the staffing of that position – were asked to review and comment on the make-up of the hiring committee, but staff were not involved at all, and there is no staff on the 18-member hiring committee nor any assurances that understanding the important role of Shared Governance – at all levels– is a priority for them. As I said a few months ago, staff are here, and we want to be involved.

That said, this is my limited opportunity to address this board prior to your January strategic planning retreat. These few minutes are hardly adequate to address such a large topic, and I am not a financial advisor, but I’d like to share a few thoughts.

It is no understatement that the long-term budget picture is pretty bleak. The university cannot absorb the kind of cuts that we got this year, especially if they continue on for multiple years, without affecting all aspects of the university. With the price of oil dropping to $65 a barrel, and state revenues coming in billions of dollars below projections, it is reasonable to believe that we will be cut, and that those cuts are going to continue.

All members of the university community need to be involved in responding to these budget cuts. Closed-door meetings and top-down decisions will do little to dispel fear or over-come distrust. There are departments and programs looking at re-organization. Who better to be involved in those decisions than the ones who actually know what work needs to be done, what resources are needed, and what is necessary to maintain or even improve our levels of service to our students and other stakeholders? Give people a voice in this—and in turn listen to what is said.

If we want to continue to improve as a university, even through this transition from an era of growth to one of reductions, we must continue to be able to attract and retain top faculty and staff. Resist the temptation to shift more costs on employees or eliminate benefits. Any further cost shifting on our health plan for instance and we will loose more members, put greater burden on those who stay, and in turn see more loss until it is no longer viable. Similarly our wellness program is one of our few tools for combating ever-growing healthcare costs, don’t be tempted to reduce it to save a few short-term dollars at the expense of long-term benefits. As staffing levels go down due to attrition, retirement, reorganization or layoffs, those who remain are tasked with ever-greater workloads. To ask so much more and then provide less would only lead to more loss. We must avoid that as best we can and demonstrate to all employees that they are valued.

Similarly, while looking into incentivizing retirement or offering buy-out options for early retirement, make sure that we’ve also addressed training and transition planning. To lose our time-tested leaders—no matter their level in the institution – during such times brings about additional losses. Support and training needs to be maintained.

We may not need to try a whole new system of budgeting, but we could make great strides by changing our current practices and attitudes. Eliminate the fear around a use-it-or-lose-it departmental budget and instead incentivize and reward fiscal stewardship and restraint.

In this opportunity to evaluate “business as usual” lets work on transparency and communication as well and engaging all members of this community. In the end we will be stronger and better, especially if we work together, understand our goals and needs, and never undermine our real mission as an institute of higher learning.

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Opera singer’s day job: Saving students’ time, money

In the interest of highlighting the good work and innovations implemented by University of Alaska staff, we share this story from the UAA Green & Gold News about a staffer who found time and money savings for students through his work in the Office of the Registrar.

Story begins:

Bachelor of Music, Class of 2011
Curriculum and Publication Specialist, Office of the Registrar
Hometown: Eagle River, Alaska
Fun Fact: Michael plans to continue his music education at the graduate level.

Michael Smith sees a virtual river of schedule forms flowing through his office each day, about 30 to 40 of the online requests UAA’s departments use to add, delete and change classes the university offers each semester.

I AM UAA: Michael Smith

Smith processes those forms as part of his job with the Office of the Registrar, where he manages flow and review processes involved with curriculum in the University Catalog and in Banner, the UA System’s administrative software package.

The task of managing that virtual paperwork used to consume time—too much time, in Smith’s opinion.

Find out how Michael solved that problem by reading the full story here.

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