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June 11, 2009

Campus staff leaders: Morale a concern

Staff leaders from Pitt’s five campuses met last week to discuss workplace issues common to staff.

Those issues included: communication channels between staff members and the administration of the respective campuses; communication channels between the regional campus groups and the Pittsburgh campus Staff Association Council (SAC); flex-time policies for staff, and morale concerns.

Several of the leaders at the meeting remarked that staff morale is as low as it has ever been. They agreed that low morale among their respective constituencies is due in large part to the floundering national economy and the lack of raises for fiscal year 2010.

(Chancellor Mark Nordenberg announced in January that there would be no increase in the FY10 salary pool because of static state funding and a bleak overall economy.)

In a report on behalf of the Pittsburgh staff group, SAC President Rich Colwell summarized some of the concerns he has heard during the year, as well as those he heard during a dinner meeting on June 3 with some regional campus representatives.

“There is concern about morale related to no raises for faculty and staff,” Colwell told the group at the June 4 meeting in the Cathedral of Learning’s Babcock Room. “The economy’s bad; we see it, we feel it. Still, we’re all happy to have jobs.”

In light of the economic downturn, regional campus staffers wondered about the feasibility of continuing construction projects on the Pittsburgh campus and, to a lesser extent, on their respective campuses, Colwell said.

“But I told them some of these projects are already started and you don’t want to abandon them, and a lot of the money that pays for them comes from the state,” Colwell said.

He said the raise issue also ties supervisors’ hands, including his own. If two employees in similar positions are performing a different quality of work, salary increases are the most tangible way to reward the better performer, Colwell said. “Not being able to do that can have a big effect on morale.”

The salary pool freeze also calls into question the usefulness of the annual job performance evaluation process, where staff members meet individually with their supervisors to discuss their job effectiveness as a precursor to raise decisions, Colwell said.

“It may seem like a waste of time because of the salary freeze, but it really isn’t, because staff should still want to find out how they can improve their job performance,” he maintained.

Monika Losagio noted that SAC’s salary and job classification committee, which she chairs, has proposed non-monetary alternatives to salary increases on a one-year-only basis. (See May 28 University Times.)

The committee also has proposed that Pitt’s administration consider offering early retirement packages for staff as a potential long-term cost-saving measure, Losagio reported.

Regarding flex-time for staff, a longstanding issue, Colwell said that Pitt’s policies provide for flex-time only at the discretion of the supervisor.

SAC’s efforts to modify Pitt’s policies to encourage supervisors to offer flex-time have been rejected, he said. But he said SAC will continue to advocate for flex-time. “We will because it’s good for morale. … We believe staff would actually get more work done because they can adjust their personal [life] schedules better,” Colwell said.

Regarding communication channels, Colwell recommended that staff leaders at every campus meet regularly — at least quarterly, he said — with their respective campus presidents.

“Our officers meet with the chancellor and the executive vice chancellor regularly,” as well as with Ron Frisch, associate vice chancellor of Human Resources, Colwell said. “I also can call them up and get a meeting if there is an issue I want to raise. I strongly recommend that you have meetings with your campus president. How else are you going to know what’s really going on?” he said.

The combined groups agreed to pursue the possibility of video-conferencing the monthly Pittsburgh SAC meetings to the regional campuses to increase their participation.

“We welcome reports from the regional campuses at our meetings, but it’s not the same as being interactive in a meeting,” Colwell said. He noted that more than a decade ago SAC meetings were broadcast to the regionals in a pilot program of the Center for Instructional Development and Distance Education, but that the cost became too prohibitive to continue the practice.

At the June 4 meeting, regional campus staff leaders summarized the activities that their groups sponsored during the past year.


Linda Delaney, president of the Bradford Staff Association, reported that the 120 or so UPB staff members all are members of the group. “Most of them come to our monthly meetings, and our two general assemblies are well-attended,” she said.

This fall, the association is launching a new Pitt Spirit campaign as the result of staff members’ requests to become more involved with student events such as move-in day. The Bradford group sponsors an event virtually every month, Delaney noted. Events have included:

• Annual faculty and staff golf and bowling outings.

• An annual family day at an amusement park.

• A luncheon for new staff.

• A luncheon for Women of Promise winners, chosen from among 44 local high school girls. The women’s history month committee co-sponsored this event.

Delaney reported that staff leaders meet once a month with UPB President Livingston Alexander. “He keeps us informed about full-time equivalents and enrollment progress, budget concerns and other campus issues. He also attends our general assemblies,” Delaney said. “That makes us feel connected and we feel like we can raise staff concerns with him and he’ll listen to us.”


Brandi Darr, in her second year as president of the Pitt-Greensburg Staff Association, reported that Michele Shuey (vice president) and Jane Strittmatter, (treasurer) are recently elected officers of the group.

Darr noted that Shuey and Strittmatter ran unopposed, indicating a certain amount of apathy among the staff.

The Staff Association leaders represent about 100 staff at the Greensburg campus. The officers meet sporadically with campus President Sharon Smith at Smith’s request, Darr said.

The association is on pace to raise $10,000 within five years to endow a student scholarship, Darr said. The Student Resources Endowed Scholarship drive was launched in 2008 with a $5,000 commitment from an anonymous donor.

The UPG staff group’s fundraising initiatives for the scholarship includes printer cartridge and paper recycling programs, which have netted about $150 per month.

Other projects included:

• Partnering with the PeopleSoft user group to offer Excel training classes.

• Sponsoring monthly events such as bingo, bowling, a picnic and “piñata Thursday,” with lottery tickets included in the piñata’s contents.

• Holding lunches at various campus buildings to better connect staff.

Darr said, “We have fun doing all these events, but sometimes we don’t have a lot of turnout. Morale is very low and apathy is up. What we are struggling with as a staff association is: What is our mission? Is it fundraising? Are we a social organization? Just what are we? We offer a lot. I just wish we could get more staff to participate.”


Sharon Wilson, a 30-year veteran of the UPJ staff and secretary of the campus’s Staff Activities and Concerns (SAC) Association, said UPJ has about 180 staff members. UPJ’s SAC sponsors events and volunteer opportunities practically every month, she said.

“We had volunteers who helped with the Richland Community Days weekend event in August and also who volunteered for ‘welcome weekend’ for our new and returning students,” Wilson said.

Other UPJ association-sponsored projects included:

• Distributing gift bags to new staff members and Halloween candy to students.

• Donating raffle gifts with proceeds benefiting the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

• Handing out gifts to residents at Laurel Wood nursing home.

• Presenting this year’s Rose Reesey Memorial Scholarship Book Award winner with $200.

• Sending memorial candles to families of two recently deceased UPJ students.

• Holding “Breakfast with Santa,” an event that drew more than 150 people.

• Sponsoring an annual Washington, D.C., day-long bus trip, as well as an annual staff picnic.

In a new effort, UPJ’s SAC staff relations committee has established the Office Vibes electronic email service, where faculty and staff can acknowledge individual staff members who have done extraordinary service that may have gone unnoticed.

“This serves as a congratulations form,” Wilson said. “People across campus can write in to say thanks or congratulations on a job well done, et cetera. This has been used many times since it started. Something so little means a lot.”


UPT Staff Association President Kathleen Plyler said her group, which comprises 60 or so staff, is more informal than others. “I am the only officer. We meet once a week, really to keep each other informed, if, say, Admissions is holding an open house, or other offices have projects going on, we’d like to know that,” Plyler said.

She said campus President William Shields is very supportive of the staff’s charitable efforts and meets regularly with staff.

“Continuing a longstanding tradition of service, UPT ‘adopted’ three families through the Salvation Army Christmas project, buying gifts for nine children as well as their parents, and buying food to stock the families’ pantries,” Plyler said.

New this year is a project initiated by UPT staffer Chris Hunt, whose son-in-law is a morale officer for troops stationed in Afghanistan and runs a program called “United Through Reading.”

“The deployed troops who are parents read donated children’s books aloud via DVD for their child to watch at home,” Plyler explained. “As an offshoot of this project, paperback books — mysteries, novels, et cetera — have been donated and are being sent to troops in Iraq. We think that donating books is an ideal project for a university.”

She is soliciting contact information for military members who might benefit from the project. (Plyler can be contacted at 814/827-4424;

Among other projects undertaken by UPT staff were:

• Support for the annual March of Dimes March for Babies as well as for the Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Crawford County.

• New this year is staff support for a local backpack program. Volunteers filled backpacks with prepared, individually packaged food to feed 38 children living in homes without adequate food.

—Peter Hart

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