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.