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November 10, 1994

Winter recess retained for this year, no talk of extending work week, Pitt administrators say

Pitt's winter recess is safe for this year and the University administration has no plans to shift to a 40-hour work week, according to senior administrators at Staff Association Council's (SAC) annual fall assembly on Oct. 31.

The University will be closed for the holidays and winter recess during the week of Dec. 26. It will reopen on Jan. 1.

The announced topic of the assembly was "Serving Your University," but the standing-room-only crowd in the William Pitt Union Ballroom was far more interested in the rumors that had been circulating about the future of Pitt's winter recess and the length of the work week.

Winter recess and the length of the work week became issues after they were discussed at SAC's Oct. 12 meeting and reported in the Oct. 13 edition of the University Times. Discussion of the two issues grew out of a report given by SAC's representative on the Board of Trustees' audit committee and resulted in a proliferation of rumors about the administration's intentions. Provost James Maher said that the rumors "do not have any substance." He said: "Let me assure you of all the rumors I've heard, and I think I've heard an exhaustive list of those rumors, I am not aware of one of them having any truth to it." Along with Maher, Chancellor J. Dennis O'Connor, Senior Vice Chancellor of Health Sciences Thomas Detre and Senior Vice Chancellor for Business and Finance Ben Tuchi addressed the assembly, and then answered written questions submitted by members of the audience.

Associate Vice Chancellor for Human Resources Darlene Lewis did not deliver prepared remarks, but did answer questions.

Although Maher assured the audience that there are no plans to do away with winter recess this year, one of the first questions addressed to the senior administrators concerned that issue. "Why can't we once and for all have the Christmas break formally approved in writing?" one questioner asked to wild applause and shouts from the audience.

While acknowledging the emotion underlying the issue, Tuchi said that winter recess remains a practice of the University "in the face of extreme cost pressures." According to Tuchi, ending the winter recess would save the University "a very considerable sum of money" and is something that Pitt may have to consider in the future. "It may be that we wish to continue it, but it will be done by examination, by collaboration, by investigation and by involvement of you and people who represent you," he told the audience. "It will not be done unilaterally." To the suggestion that ending the winter recess would not save the Pitt "one dollar," Tuchi said that as the situation now stands the winter recess costs the University about 15,000 workdays annually.

"If you assume that none of those workdays have to be replaced, then there is no saving," he said. "If you assume that those workdays have to be replaced, there is a saving." Tuchi said he once attempted to calculate the savings, but "after I got to the point of it being approximately $2 million, I saw no reason to refine it." When asked what changing the work week from 37.5 hours to 40 hours would mean to the University financially, Tuchi said he did not know. He said that changing the work week is not something that has been contemplated, so an analysis has not been done.

Maher added that, as far as he can tell, what gave rise to the rumor of a 40-hour week was something that happened in a Board of Trustees committee that was supposed to have been confidential.

"I, as an officer of the University, am not aware of what went on in there," Maher said. "But I know there are no plans on the part of the University to do anything like a 40-hour work week." Maher said that if any change in the length of the work week is considered, it will be run through the Planning and Budgeting System and be discussed fully before anything is implemented.

"The mechanism is in place and what we need to do is make it all work, build trust and have everybody alerted to be very skeptical about rumors," he said.

Another person wanted to know why Pitt decided to celebrate the Jan. 1 New Year holiday on Dec. 30 instead of Jan. 3.

According to Human Resource's Lewis, the decision was based on the academic calendar, which has students returning on Jan. 5. Maher added that it is imperative for people to be on campus when the students return and that the schedule was established a year and a half in advance. He said the University is extremely competitive with other institutions and businesses when it comes to paid days off.

"But we do have to run a school," he added, "and when we have to open classes on Wednesday after New Year's or else slide a whole week, I think it is a very defensible thing to say the University is going to reopen on Monday." Another time issue that arose during the question period involved inclement weather and forcing employees who cannot make it in to work to take vacation time or lose a day of pay. The questioner suggested giving compensatory time to those employee who do make it to work.

Lewis said that a new Human Resources policy committee has just been formed and that the first issue on its agenda is snow days.

Tuchi admitted that "we fouled up" last year when the heavy snows hit. He said the administration got caught unprepared for last winter's snowfall, but will be ready this year.

According to Tuchi, there will be a consistent policy this winter that determines the way people are paid for snow days, when the University closes, as well as when the University will not be closed, but will operate with a reduced staff.

In addition, Tuchi said the University will have an emergency center that will handle weather-related issues.

Chancellor O'Connor drew applause when he responded to a suggestion that the University commit to mandatory supervisory training for all supervisors by saying that such mandatory training should include academic supervisors. Lewis said: "Leadership development has not been killed. We are in the process of trying to roll it out." She noted that management training has the backing of O'Connor, Maher and Tuchi, but that an estimated 1,000 supervisors will need to be trained. "At the current schedule, it will take three years to do that," Lewis said. "So, we are looking at other alternatives to try to get it out faster. But it will be out in every department. It will not be self selection. And every supervisor will be trained through leadership development." SAC President Darlene Harris said that SAC has been working on the issue for a long time and has frequently brought it to the attention of the administration. Progress has been made on this, she added.

To a suggestion that he find a way for staff to communicate directly with his office when they have a complaint that is difficult to resolve, Tuchi said he has been thinking over that issue for years and does not have an answer how that can be handled. He said his office could work with SAC on the issue.

Lewis pointed out that there are currently two ways that complaints can be handled. One is through SAC and the other is through Human Resources' employee relations. Lewis also pointed out that she personally can be reached by e-mail and telephone.

A complaint about fringe benefits being reduced or taken away and pay raises failing to meet the inflation rate was contradicted by Tuchi. He said that since 1991 there are no incidents he is aware of where raises were less than the inflation rate.

"Second, I would point out to you, that I don't know of the benefit losses of which you speak," he noted.

Tuchi said that benefits have been changed to be more efficient or more cost effective, but there is "absolutely no intention to reduce them." About the increase in the tuition benefit change, he said that cost has only risen from $5 per credit hour to about $5.22 per credit hour. He said that not giving some benefits to newly hired employees does not mean anything is being taken away from the people who currently work at the University.

Tuchi's assessment of pay raises was supported by Maher, who said that the cost of living index for the Pittsburgh area for the past year was well under 3 percent while raises averaged 4 percent, a remark that drew a groan from the crowd.

(Editor's note: Non-union faculty and staff judged to be performing satisfactorily received a 2.7 percent salary increase under the 1994-95 budget.) Maher responded by saying that most state universities around the country have had years when there were no raises given to employees.

"Several of the most prominent of the Big Ten universities have had multiple years when there was no raise," he said. "We have been able to avoid that and I hope that we will be able to continue avoiding that." Maher also said that every university is experiencing financial problems in connection with fringe benefits and one way of preserving fringe benefits for employees is to grandfather in existing employees, and then phase in a reduction.

"What are we going to be facing in the future?" Maher asked. "I think our future is probably better than it is for most universities because we have traditionally been a frugally run university. But that doesn't mean it is going to be easy." He said the economic problems that caused most American industries to downsize over the past 10 years are beginning to hit universities.

Funding from state legislatures is essentially stagnant and donors of all types are not donating as much money to universities as they did in the past.

Maher also noted that Pitt has an enormous amount of deferred maintenance that can't be ignored any longer, deferred construction that must be undertaken in order to attract students, and inflation pressures.

–Mike Sajna

Filed under: Feature,Volume 27 Issue 6

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