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July 7, 2005

Staff reps from five campuses compare notes

From a lively — and frank — discussion last month among staff leaders from Pitt’s five campuses emerged shared frustrations and successes, as well as campus-specific issues and initiatives.

Staff association council representatives from Pitt’s five campuses met June 14 at the Bradford campus for the annual Council of Campuses meeting. Staff associations rotate hosting the event.

Among the issues common to all staff associations, the staff leaders agreed, is the difficulty in attracting new members to serve on the councils.

Andrea Leibfried, president of the UPJ Staff Activities and Concerns Association, said, “The same people keep showing up to help with our activities. We’re even viewed as a clique on campus.”

Pittsburgh Staff Association Council (SAC) President Rich Colwell said that the Pittsburgh SAC recently amended its bylaws to stimulate membership.

“It used to be that there were limits on the number of members from a particular area of the University who could join, but we changed that,” Colwell said. “We also allow [conditional] members to join during the year, instead of only once a year; they serve for six months before they can vote.”

Under its bylaws, Pittsburgh’s SAC can have a maximum of 80 members at any one time. “We get up to about 40 or 50, but some members join because they have a specific agenda item they want to pursue,” such as a particular complaint they have with their job or supervisor.

“Then they find out that’s not what SAC is all about. We’re here to represent all staff, not one with [an isolated] complaint. And they realize there’s a lot of work — on committees, on searches, getting complaints from other staff — then they quit after six months. So getting new members is an issue,” Colwell said.

Staff leaders from the other campuses suggested more communication vehicles to alert staff, especially new employees, of the purpose of the staff associations — for example, by including a mission statement and activities list in staff orientation packages.

Regional campus staff leaders also expressed the common frustration of feeling disenfranchised from the Pittsburgh campus in certain ways, including: a dearth of opportunities to pursue graduate degrees via distance education from the Pittsburgh campus; the lack on their campuses of employee training and personal development sessions that regularly are offered through Human Resources in Pittsburgh, and limited options for health care providers under the University’s employee health care plan.

Gwen Watkins, vice president of steering for Pittsburgh’s SAC, suggested that the regional campuses draft a joint proposal to Pitt’s central administration regarding expanding distance education options to the regionals. “They might say, ‘No.’ But four voices are stronger than one,” Watkins said.

Colwell said it is ironic that regional campus employees are offered a graduate-level tuition benefit as compensation for lower salaries. Realistically, he said, most can’t use the benefit, since there are no opportunities to enroll in such programs at their campuses.

Regarding employee training sessions, Bradford campus leaders pointed out that it’s a seven-hour roundtrip drive from UPB to Pittsburgh, a strong deterrent for employees to sign up.

Colwell offered to share those concerns with Human Resources officials. “But I can tell you what they will say,” he said. “They’ll ask: ‘How may staff are you talking about that want a particular training session?’ If it’s one or two, they’ll say, ‘Come to Pittsburgh.’ But if it’s a big number, they would probably offer it at the regional campus.”

Regarding health care options, Leibfried said that Conemaugh Hospital and health system, the health care facilities most convenient to the Johnstown campus, are separating from UPMC in 2006. “That means higher prices, or finding a UPMC facility elsewhere,” she said.

Bradford and Titusville staff leaders pointed out that the nearest dentist participating as a UPMC provider is 30-40 miles away.

The five campus staff presidents also made reports on their organizations’ activities.

Pittsburgh campus

According to Colwell, SAC has two voting members on the University Planning and Budgeting Committee (UPBC), a group of faculty, staff and administrators chaired by the provost who meet in closed sessions. Annually, UPBC makes recommendations to the chancellor on salary increases for faculty and staff.

“This was the first year, in my 11 years serving on UPBC, that SAC voted against the salary recommendations,” Colwell said. “I can’t tell you what UPBC recommended to the chancellor because that is confidential. I can tell you that SAC said we would not support any recommendations that were less than a 4 percent raise for faculty and staff.”

Low-paid employees are “spinning their wheels,” he said, with gas prices soaring and the rising cost of living continuing to diminish the value of real dollars. “A 3 percent raise can be a lot if you’re making a lot. If you’re making $20,000 a year, less than 4 percent [increase] is eaten up by gas prices alone,” Colwell said.

Bradford campus

Kara Kennedy, outgoing president of the staff association (officially the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford Staff Association or UPBSA), told the campus leaders that a number of staff who are being trained on the new PeopleSoft student registry system (which is replacing the ISIS system University-wide) are having difficulty adapting to the system while keeping up with their other responsibilities.

UPBSA officers referred to “Pitt’s aggressive schedule for implementing” the new system, which has led to extra pressure on staff to be ready for this fall term.

UPBSA’s other main concern is regular staff having to make do with temporary employees for an inordinate length of time, “a fiscal management tool” to avoid hiring permanent staff and paying full benefits, Kennedy said.

All 140 full-time staff at Bradford are members of the association, with 25, on average, showing up for the monthly meetings, she said.

UPBSA has excellent rapport with, and support of, Bradford campus President Livingston Alexander, Kennedy said.

“UPBSA sponsors activities that range from personal and professional development workshops to social events to volunteer work in the community,” Kennedy said. “We sponsor an annual staff recognition award, and winners are nominated for the University-wide chancellor’s staff awards.”

Other awards include the Staff Association Endowed Scholarship, funded through staff donations and matching grants, and the annual Women of Promise Awards, which honor local high school students.

Other UPBSA activities in the past year included:

• Staff welfare workshops, with topics such as “Get Fit in 2005,” meditation, retirement preparation and “Collaboration in a Dilbert World.”

• Guest speakers for monthly UPBSA meetings, such as representatives from the local YWCA’s Victims Resource Center, Metz and Associates (the new food service contractor at UPB), the Center for Rural Health Practice and the Tuna Valley Trail Association.

• Sponsored events, such as the new staff orientation breakfast, a holiday potluck luncheon, a Super Bowl tailgating party, the annual bowling tournament and the annual faculty/staff golf outing.

• Community service, such as staffing a local soup kitchen and running a holiday food drive.

Greensburg campus

Pitt-Greensburg has about 120 full-time staff, with about 25 active Staff Association members, according to Thomas Horan, president of the association.

“There are two issues we’re wrestling with right now,” Horan said. “One is a smoking on campus issue. Of course, there is no smoking in any of our buildings, but how far away should smokers have to be from the buildings’ entrances? When it gets cold outside, smokers tend to move right next to the entrances. We don’t have a policy that covers that” that is fair to both smokers and those who are concerned with secondary smoke, he said.

The other issue involves a new $50-a-year parking fee that will be charged to employees who park on campus beginning in August 2006. Staff are grumbling about the fee, Horan said. “I think some of them will just park across the street from the campus’s entrance, which is not a safe spot.”

(Pitt-Johnstown staff leaders said that their campus has had a $50-a-year parking fee for several years. UPB staff said they had heard rumors on their campus that a similar fee might be installed, but that decision had not been made. Pittsburgh campus staff pay $85-$92 per month for a parking permit; on-campus parking at Titusville is free.)

Horan also reported on the Pitt-Greensburg Staff Association activities, including:

• A brown bag lunch series with topics of interest to staff such as a review of construction projects, identity theft and health-related issues.

• Community projects such as the campus’s hosting the Antique Car Club of America regional show in May with staff running food booths to raise money, supporting the Make-a-Wish Foundation and the American Heart Association, treating the food service staff to skits parodying their personalities and volunteering to give manicures to residents of a local assisted-living facility.

Johnstown campus

Leibfried said the UPJ Staff Activities and Concerns Association provides representation to about 160 full-time staff.

“One of our projects is to send e-cards to staff for a number of reasons,” including sympathy, congratulations, retirement, birthdays and work anniversaries, Leibfried said. “We also hold a number of annual events, including our Family Holiday Project, where this year with the money we raised we decided to send care packages to UPJ students who were deployed [in the military]. We also have an annual staff picnic.”

Other UPJ staff association projects include:

• Supporting Project Bundle-Up;

• Raising money for the American Heart Association;

• Sponsoring a six-week weight-loss workshop, which drew more than 20 staff and resulted in 150 combined lost pounds;

• Hosting monthly “night out” dinners at local restaurants for staff to socialize;

• Building a float for the Johnstown Halloween parade;

• Administering the Rose Reesey Memorial Book Award for students.

Titusville campus

Kathleen Plyler, president of the staff association at Pitt’s smallest campus, which has about 45 staff members, said the UPT staff association is largely an informal group that meets weekly over lunch.

“In fact, we do a lot of eating,” Plyler jested. “We have a picnic once a month, with [staff from] a different building on campus acting as the hosts.”

The staff association also sponsors a clothing and food drive with the Salvation Army during the holidays. Many staff participate in the campus’s ESP (employee-student partnership) program, where staff act as mentors for students as they adjust to college life and prepare for the real world after college, she said.

Staff played an important role during the search for a new campus president, Plyler said. “We’re really looking forward to Dr. [William] Shields taking over in the fall.”

Following the meeting Pittsburgh staffer Angela Peskie, SAC vice president for marketing and communications, said that the Pittsburgh SAC will explore interest among the five campuses’ leaders in having the Council of Campuses meet twice a year.

In addition to the meeting of staff leaders and a campus tour, the group was welcomed by President Alexander. Alexander said that UPB staff were among the campus’s most important resources and that he frequently consulted with staff leaders on campus issues, including involving them in UPB’s strategic planning process.

Campus leaders also participated in a demonstration by UPB faculty member Jeff Guterman and his students of the campus’s state-of-the-art interactive television studio.

—Peter Hart

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