Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

May 15, 2003

Rich Colwell and Barbara Mowery are candidates for the Staff Association Council presidency

This year’s election for Staff Association Council (SAC) president, to be voted on by SAC members prior to the June 11 meeting, pits incumbent president Barbara “Babs” Mowery against former president Richard Colwell, who currently is SAC vice president for steering. SAC officers serve two-year terms beginning July 1.

Mowery, senior academic adviser in the College of Arts and Sciences Advising Center and a Pitt staff member since 1972, has been a member of SAC for nine years. She also is working toward her doctorate in the School of Education. She earned a B.A. and an M.Ed. at Pitt using staff tuition benefits.

Colwell has been on staff in the School of Engineering’s Office of the Associate Dean for 19 years, now serving as a senior system specialist IV. Colwell has been a member of SAC for 18 years.

Last week, University Times writer Peter Hart asked Mowery and Colwell to respond in writing to the following questions:

Some staff positions were eliminated this year under what Human Resources has referred to as “efficiency reorganizations.” What can SAC do to protect staff jobs?

Colwell: I realize that budget tightening will be a by-product of current poor conditions, but I do not believe that staff reductions are the most cost-effective and rational way to proceed. My stance has been that one job lost is one lost job too many. I have been a strong voice to the senior administration about doing everything possible to re-deploy these terminated staff members at the University.

I also must question why some of the jobs have been eliminated. If the staff member was not putting forth 100 percent effort, shouldn’t the supervisors in that unit have been aware of that long before HR made their studies and recommendations? Maybe some streamlining of supervisory positions should be in order.

I will make an effort to make these terminations public knowledge, while encouraging staff in general to pursue continuing education to keep their skills and knowledge up to date. I also will encourage senior administration to address other ways of budget cutting.

Mowery: We all know the economy in general is forcing a lot of budget cuts, and we’re affected just as well. As the budgets are reduced, the units are forced to make budget cuts, and some units are doing that by cutting staff.

In meetings with the administration, we have gotten the impression that they do not intend to continue to eliminate staff positions this year. A freeze on open positions might be a little easier to handle, although even a freeze forces the remaining staff to take on additional duties and that becomes a burden. Staff are expected to be highly skilled and multi-tasking and some have not been proactive in seeking ways to advance their skills.

There was quite a bit of backlash, including from SAC members, when the raises and deferred bonuses for senior administrators were announced in December. What is your opinion?

Colwell: I believe that not only the staff, but also faculty, alumni, donors, students, parents of students and taxpayers were surprised by the board’s decision to award senior administrators deferred and large bonuses at a time when units were asked to make cutbacks.

While many of our senior administrators are hard-working and effective managers, and some might possibly be able to command larger salaries at other institutions, one might question the timing of these raises. Why wasn’t this bonus structure initiated in previous years when the economy was better and the commonwealth budget cutbacks were not in effect?

I don’t begrudge these administrators a competitive salary, but without the hard work of the staff members that are not in the forefront, senior administrators could not enjoy the success that they do.

Mowery: No response provided.

On a scale of 1 to 5 (with 5 being the highest), rate the current state of the following:• Staff performance evaluations.

Colwell: Rating: 3. The system has the potential for a higher rating if all staff received an evaluation and supervisors were trained in standards of evaluations. Not doing an evaluation for an employee, or doing it without developing expected standards, does a disservice to all. Not doing evaluations causes problems for the manager and the University should a grievance or legal action arise.

Consistent and fair evaluations give the employee a sense of accomplishment when they have performed well and insights to the areas in which to improve. The mutual respect that develops from good communication aids in accomplishing the mission and goals of the department.

Mowery: I think that there are several problems with the current staff performance evaluation system.

Even though policy states that the University is responsible for evaluating the performance of staff each calendar year, not every unit supervisor does it. Each supervisor has his/her own way of doing the evaluation, which means it’s very subjective also. An evaluation is supposed to be done “to build on the working relationship between employee and supervisor” and “setting people up for success, not failure,” and many times I believe it is not used for those reasons. The form itself can be confusing, the questions are redundant and are not appropriate for all types of positions. The values assigned to the rating system are quite frequently misinterpreted.

Some units are using Performance Now, which is a computer-based appraisal system. This system supposedly addresses the responsibilities of each job family, but most units cannot afford [financially] to implement it. I propose that we work with Human Resources and develop a performance appraisal form that would be tailored to the specific job families so that the questions would be more pertinent.

The facilitator at a workshop I attended did say that units could work with HR to create their own performance appraisal forms. I think we need to push the units to take advantage of this offer.

• Staff morale (job security, pay levels, ability to advance in careers, respect of supervisors/administration)?

Colwell: Rating: 1 to 2. The morale of staff seems to be at a low point. Many are afraid of cutbacks and loss of real salary, which lessens their feeling of self-worth.

Staff have complained that when they applied for another position within the University, HR did not forward their resume to the hiring department. This dissuades staff from using the system, as well as denies a real opportunity for advancement, which becomes very discouraging for the individual.

Mowery: The bottom line is that there is no real job security anywhere any more and I think all of this does have a negative impact on the morale of staff.

As SAC has maintained open lines of communication with senior administration, we have the opportunity to continue expressing the concerns and frustration of the staff and ask for fair treatment.

Do you recommend mandatory training for supervisors?

Colwell: All supervisors, faculty and staff, have their own management style. They also must adjust to the individual and unique needs of their units.

However, some form of consistency and standards must be maintained for the productivity and workflow of the University as a whole. Training gives the managers an insight to “best practices” and ideas to develop solutions for problems within their departments. This training should also extend to the employee evaluations.

Mowery: Yes. One major reason would be so that staff are treated the same across departments.

Staff who want to advance are urged to attend Pitt’s staff development workshops. How effective are they?

Colwell: The feedback that I have received regarding the workshops is that they are very helpful. The only complaint is that in many areas workshops only offer a very cursory introductory level. Obviously, the more workshops and training that you receive the more valuable you are in your present job and the more marketable you are when you are making a move to advance. Some staff have complained that their supervisors limit their ability to take time off and take advantage of these learning experiences.

Mowery: I don’t know how effective the workshops are in helping staff advance. In the past year, the provost has asked us to encourage staff to take advantage of the workshops to advance their skills and their position. I have actually tried to take at least one or two of those workshops myself each term during the past couple of years and have learned a lot. Whether the workshops really help staff advance is yet to be seen.

Many staff say they are reluctant to speak out on issues because they fear repercussions. Do you think these fears are valid?

Colwell: It is true that many staff members are afraid of expressing their opinions because of retaliation and reprisals. I, as well as many of my co-members in SAC, believe that for staff members to be afraid to express opinions or participate in shared governance contradicts the mission of the University, which encourages the advancement of learning. The fear of not being able to express your opinion also leads to mistrust and to low morale.

Mowery: When I became a SAC officer, one of my goals was to gain more recognition and respect for the staff and SAC in the University community. Staff and SAC are just as much a part of this community as the administration, faculty and students. I believe our reputation has improved and we have a stronger presence at this institution.

I have tried to take a proactive and positive approach even with all of the changes taking place. I want our staff to be knowledgeable, especially about the things that affect them most. I want them to take advantage of their benefits and the opportunities available to them.

What is your opinion of the fact that staff who also enroll as students don’t enjoy student I.D. privileges?

Colwell: In all fairness, staff do pay a considerable amount less than students for education. There should be some incentives for staff to use some of the students’ services, e.g., the athletic facilities, or the student fees for staff should be reduced.

Mowery: I feel that the staff who are enrolled as students should be granted all of the same privileges that other students have because we are paying the same activity, computer and course fees as the other students, we’re taking the same classes and under the same college rules as the other students, and we are receiving scholarships just like other students do.

If elected SAC president, what are your plans/goals for the coming year?

Colwell: I would like to increase our membership by making all staff aware of the accomplishments that we, SAC, have had throughout the years. One way that I plan on accomplishing this is to increase the communication with all staff as to all issues that are being discussed. I would also like more of the SAC membership to be involved in the advisory committees of the University. Additionally, I am working with the SAC steering committee to strengthen and improve our informational and statistical gathering processes. I believe that in knowledge there is strength, and increasing our information resources will only improve our representation of Pitt’s staff community.

Mowery: If re-elected, I would continue to make staff’s presence felt. I would continue to look out for the best interest of the staff and provide staff with the information they need to understand what affects them personally and the institution in general. I would like to see our SAC organization be a model that others aspire to and that our own staff and community can be proud of.

Leave a Reply