Questions for the Dean, Quarterly Meeting, January 2013

Posted: February 13, 2013

A summary of answers from Dr. Christ to questions posed by the Staff Advisory Committee at the January 2013 quarterly meeting.

The quarterly meeting of the committee and the dean is a time to share questions and concerns that come to the committee from staff across the college. As a way to share this information with the entire staff, the committee decided to post these answers here for staff review. Questions submitted to the dean prior to the meeting (so she may have some time to prepare answers that involve information she may have to research) are listed first. Follow-up questions that arose during the course of the meeting are included with the question to which it pertains. Additional questions asked during the course of the meeting are included last.


Question 1: With regard to the expenses incurred by the University as a result of the Sandusky incident, will the University be looking at college budgets to recoup this money?

Dr. Christ: The University’s budget system is complex. In short, there is a corporate side and an academic side to the University budget. I'm not sure how much reserve funding the University will have left to cover the expenses associated with the incident. However, University officials have assured us that the academic side will not bear the brunt of any direct costs, legal fees, or other expenses associated with the Sandusky incident. Athletics will be taking out a loan to pay the NCAA. Indirectly we may experience a few faculty and others leaving the university as part of the negative impact this has had.

Question 2: Have faculty been clearly informed about reductions in staffing, how this affects support services, and what responsibilities faculty will be expected to assume?

Dr. Christ: We have been encouraging department heads to talk to faculty about this. In the dean’s webinars, it has been mentioned. Even if faculty are informed, there are some who still want support.

Followup question: Additionally, with reduced staffing, staff are also providing staff support for emeritus faculty who continue to have office space. Is there a policy regarding emeritus faculty holding offices for numerous years?

Dr. Christ: We asked department heads if there should be a policy regarding emeritus faculty holding offices. The department heads clearly did not want a policy to be made. Instead, they want to make the judgment call on emeritus faculty retaining offices. Now where there are emeritus offices where people are no longer coming in, then a department head should consider reassigning that space. But if an emeritus faculty member is still productive, then it is the department heads call—depending on their unit’s space needs.

Question 3: Can you provide an update on the dean’s search? Have you received information from the consultants regarding their meetings with individuals and groups within the college?

Dr. Christ: An announcement was recently released to submit nominations along with all of the members on the search committee. The consulting group will help cast a broader net for a candidate pool where will be receiving applications and taking phone calls from people interested in applying. Everyone in the college has an opportunity to submit nominations to the consulting group.

Question 4: One of the reasons the ACTS Program was originally created was to reward and retain outstanding staff since the system then in use, the PIQ system, did not recognize such factors as volume, size of department, etc. It is not clear if the new system, CJC, recognizes these factors either. How are departments able to reward and, more importantly, retain outstanding staff performers?

Dr. Christ:  This continues to be an ongoing problem for the university. No college or department wants to see staff move out in order to move up the career ladder. The CJC system was to have improved this but there is still a lot of confusion still surrounding the process. All I can say is that this is an area that the university is looking into but I don’t have any of the specifics.

Question 5: It has been heard that soon after the announcement of the discontinuance of the ACTS program, monies would be made available to provide pay raises as an incentive to faculty for student advising through Terry Musser’s “Master Advising Team.”  There has apparently been extra monies available, in some departments at least, for faculty who assume “Program Coordinator” roles for undergraduate or graduate students. As remaining staff have been asked to do more with less, and without additional compensation, shouldn’t faculty be asked to advise as part of their regular salaried responsibilities?

Dr. Christ:  Not sure what this is referring to. Need to look into this further. The funding for the ACTS promotions were internal College funds.

Question 6: At the staff retreat on January 3, you mentioned that more layoffs were coming. Can you provide more information regarding number and time frame?

Dr. Christ: To the best of my knowledge, there are no layoffs on my radar. Where layoffs have been occurring are areas where faculty cannot support their technicians or research positions from research or soft funds. If you will recall, previously Dr. McPheron met with those units where there were some technician or research positions that were funded from college funding. Those areas have until June 30, 2013, to find alternative funding for those positions because the college can no longer afford to support those positions. We have also been trying to streamline some things within our central units such as with the Publication Distribution Center where we are moving to an online ordering system through an external vendor. We are trying to minimize layoffs but we are downsizing. Administrative staffing is down to the bones and there is nowhere to cut. We still have a few more positions that are clearly needed within the units. We are looking at sharing staff centrally across the units as a possible option.

Question 7: It has been heard that the college will soon be cutting the college budget and taking back a percentage of each departmental budget. Can you elaborate?

Dr. Christ: The College has a $1.7 Million deficit that needs to be repaid over the next five year period. Due to the restructuring process and shifting of personnel into new units, the college has an opportunity to reset the budget. Historically, when budget cuts have been made in the past, each department gave up different things depending on their individual budget situation. In other instances, the only option available to departments was to cut personnel. Now we have to do something because we have had these changes. The other challenge is that each department is so different—with different teaching, research and extension resource needs—that we do not want to make an across-the-board determination. As a result, this year departments would initially receive 50% of their permanent operation budget starting July 1, 2012 with the exception of the salary line—all salary lines were provided. The college has retained funds to centralize some annual expenses incurred such as the Microsoft licensing fees and the Telecommunications IT fee (based on headcount). On the College’s teaching budget line, Dr. Tracey Hoover is working with a subcommittee to adjust those lines so that the college can reinvest a portion every year to departments with growing instructional programs or to help support judging teams which are not official teams. Dr. Gary Thompson is also working with a subcommittee to reallocate GIA packages among the departments. With regard to carryover funds, some departments have a legitimate reason for carrying over large amounts of General funds due to faculty start-up packages, etc. But there has been a trend with some departments to have large carryover amounts. We cannot save General funds for a rainy day when the college has a debt to pay off. As a result, we are starting to hold back 25% of the department’s carryover amounts unless a department has a legitimate reason for their carryover.

Question 8: With regard to employee morale issues: are there any initiatives planned by the college to provide continuing encouragement to staff through this transition? People continue to feel as though they are “drifting” and have no direction and, since the layoffs only affected staff, the feeling that staff are expendable and of little overall importance to the college.

Dr. Christ: Let me ask the committee what initiatives should the college organize to help? We try to take the approach of providing assistance and direction, but what else can we do to help? What would be most beneficial to the staff? 

    Some suggestions were to organize an ice cream social, organize college tours of different college areas (monthly/quarterly); have department heads meet with their staff (not all department heads do); encourage some “Thank You” notes or e-mails to staff who do a good job.

Question 9: From the discussion during the college’s staff retreat, it seems there is confusion among staff about the centers in the college and how they are related to the departments and the college. Additionally, staff supporting these centers have noted feeling disconnected and unsupported by their departments and the college due to the lack of understanding by non-center staff of the missions of these centers. Centers are also being expected to handle tasks that belong to the undergraduate staff person in that academic unit due to a lack of response, or delays, in getting the information needed from the staff assistant. Can you please provide more details about the relationship of the college’s centers to the departments and staff?

Dr. Christ: We have to look at each center individually.  When creating new centers, faculty don’t always think down the line of determining what staff support that would be needed to support the center.  Some centers revolve around a grant where the grant should be supporting the staff members.  The organizational chart is a good idea because there does seem to be a lot of misunderstandings about the centers and their reporting lines. 

Question 10: With regard to staff promotions/salary increases: when a staff member feels that a denial is unwarranted, is there a staff ombudsman to whom the employee can turn for assistance, who might be able to provide more explanation about the denial, or who would represent the staff member’s interests through an appeal? College and University HR staff represent the interests of the University more so than the interests of the staff. It would be helpful to have someone who would speak on behalf of the staff.

Dr. Christ: This is a question for the HR office and the committee should work with HR on this.

A few comments and questions that arose from the staff retreat on January 3:

Question 11: During the retreat, people at my table did not feel that their “managers” had a handle on what they do in their jobs and that managers were not adequately trained in general management skills. Does the college require mandatory trainings for office managers?

Dr. Christ: We have not required training, but certainly encourage it. Staff training has always been left to the departments to determine what training is needed. As a college, if we see anything we can do to help people, we should be doing it. The college leadership team had a conversation with department heads regarding what they expected from their managers. Some department heads don’t know how to utilize their staff effectively and partner with their managers.

Question 12: Staff did not feel that everyone was compensated based on merit. Some people are pulling more weight than others but not at the same promotional level. Can you address this?

Dr. Christ: Salary increases and merit increases are performed at the local, department level. From a central viewpoint, we see staff doing a great job and the weak side of things. Departments have never asked the deans area how their office works similar to a department staff 360° review. Maybe something like this would help but evaluations are done at the department level as well. Sue Basso (Central HR) through an external consulting company, Sibson Consulting, are conducting an online survey of the SRDP system to better understand the current state of performance management and guide the revision process.

Question 13: Some comments were heard that the college is putting too much emphasis on the “financial assistant” position. Other staff have had part of, or most of, these duties and do not understand the compensation level compared to other positions. Can you comment on why there is so much emphasis on the “financial assistant” position?

Dr. Christ: The financial area is a critical area for the college and one where the college needs more staff. Last year there was a focus group that had looked at possible financial duties that could be centralized. Then when the restructuring happened, central HR had changed many of the financial assistant position levels without the college’s knowledge and was not happy with that decision. The college had looked at possibly having a central group of core staff that could help units in emergency needs to fill in on the financial side, but we are also short on staff centrally as well. 

Question 14: The retreat was informational. However, if the college wants administrative staff opinions, wouldn’t it be best to have a time when support staff could talk without their managers being present?

Dr. Christ: We can certainly look into this further.


Additional questions asked during the course of the meeting:

Question: Recently, the college released a proposed facility contact list where each department would be assigned a key staff member to assist with facilities when there are major issues or projects. There is some confusion as to what duties the facility contacts will provide vs. what duties still need to be performed by department managers or at the department level?

Dr. Christ: The university requires the college to have one contact person for facilities and safety. Brad Smith is the college’s contact person since Ray Pruss retired. Sometimes Brad can facilitate things with OPP faster than we can from the departments. Some departments have had their own facilities person and other departments have not. Since there have been some retirements, we needed to establish a contact person to help departments keep up with their chemical inventory records, making sure labs are safe, etc. Not all departments have labs with chemicals, etc. The majority of the day-to-day facility responsibilities will still reside at the department level with the manager or assigned staff member such as reporting a leak, coordinating phone and office moves, etc. But for major facility needs, it would be beneficial for the departments to alert and coordinate with their facility contact ahead of time so they can help monitor the daily tasks being performed, when OPP is there, etc.

Question: As a follow-on question about facilities, some staff are concerned about handling packages that may contain dangerous chemicals and other biohazardous materials.  Staff are not trained in proper handling of these but yet we are signing and receiving the packages.  Faculty and students do not always come and pick up the packages and some packages need refrigeration which we don’t have in the main office for packages.

Dr. Christ: This is something we may have to ask Brad Smith to look into as a college and provide feedback to units.

Question: Are all the department office moves completed within the college?

Dr. Christ: All of the major moving is done. Prior to the restructuring, we had looked at every building on core campus. Currently, we are revising those charts with new department colors and contacts for OPP. Our goal is to help set the stage for the incoming dean by assessing the needs of the college for the next five years, and this includes space and facilities.