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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