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Staff Senate Message to UVA Leadership and Response

Related Date: 
July 08, 2020

On July 1, the Staff Senate sent a message to UVA leaders to advocate for staff. EVP-COO J.J. Wagner Davis and EVP and Provost Liz Magill responded on July 8. We made requests regarding representation of average staff members in important groups (committees, task forces, and working groups), staff participation in UVA's racial equity work, and remote work for fall 2020. 

The Racial Equity Task Force has set up a special meeting with the Staff Senate on July 14. We encourage you to talk with your senators if you have thoughts you'd like to share about racial equity at UVA, and we also encourage you to register for the public listening and idea session the task force will host on July 10. Registration is required. 

The following is the message sent to leadership with their response included below it: 

Dear University Leaders,

Thanks to you all for engaging the Staff Senate to co-sponsor the staff town hall on June 10. During the event, you invited us to share how we would like to be engaged in important University matters, and we write to do so.

Our valued partners in HR contacted the Staff Senate co-chairs mid-morning on May 28 about the potential for Staff Senate to co-sponsor the staff town hall in the following weeks. Later that afternoon, the message regarding the Fall 2020 Committee’s initial determinations arrived. It included the following lines:

 - “The committee is chaired by our provost, Liz Magill, and includes faculty, staff, students, and a member of the Board of Visitors.”

 - “We have asked many to participate in this work—faculty, staff, students, University leaders, public health experts, and members of the Charlottesville community.”

 - “We plan to conduct staff town halls, polls, and surveys as well.”

These statements are concerning to staff for the following reasons:

- Average staff members were not represented on the Fall 2020 Committee. High-level executive staff participated. Publicly available salary information (excluding the undergraduate and Board of Visitors representatives) reveals that the median salary for those originally on the committee is $333,000. The median salary for full-time Academic Division staff is $55,000. Decisions that will impact the health and financial security of thousands of staff members are being made without appropriate representation.

- No one from Staff Senate participated in that work prior to the email, and staff members expressed surprise to senators because widespread staff engagement had not occurred.

- Staff feedback was prioritized after students and faculty. Undergraduate students received a survey on May 3, and graduate students and faculty on May 26. The faculty town hall took place on May 27, and preliminary announcements about fall arrived in that message on May 28 prior to substantive engagement of staff.

In addition to Fall 2020 concerns, School of Medicine cost-saving measures are troubling. Most SOM staff experienced salary reductions or furloughs, which has a greater impact on those with less financial security. While the School of Medicine and School of Nursing’s situations are unique due to Health System ties, we are all Academic Division employees. Staff members in these schools being set apart fosters disunity. Moving forward, we hope that the burden of cost-saving measures are more equitably shared between all of the Academic Division community. Staff Senate is a willing partner to collaborate when these challenging decisions must be made.

As the elected representatives of the 6,500+ Academic Division staff members, we believe the baseline for engaging staff is to have Staff Senate representatives participate in key discussions, committees, task forces, and working groups.

We recognize the enormous stress you are under and appreciate your leadership of UVA during this challenging time. We also want to be mindful that staff members, our constituents, are under different but equal stresses. To serve the University effectively and efficiently, staff needs to operate in a close relationship with leadership that is transparent, mutually supportive, and based on trust. Trust in the University administration to prioritize the wellbeing of staff has been shaken by recent decisions made without adequate staff input. Staff Senate would like to help repair that trust and reopen these lines of communication and makes the following requests.

The Staff Senate requests the following to help contribute to key University endeavors:

- Staff Senate will be included to represent staff members’ interests on committees, task forces, and working groups pertaining to University-wide issues affecting staff. Doing so will help staff feel that our voice is represented in crucial conversations when decisions are made. It will reduce concerns over a lack of transparency, such as with decision-making about salary reductions and furloughs. Finally, it will enable staff to contribute our unique insights, experience, and passion for UVA in substantive ways.

- In the near term, this would entail adding Staff Senate members, or staff members recommended by the Senate, to the working group(s) following up on the Fall 2020 Committee’s decisions, including the working group (mentioned in the June 17 Fall 2020 Update) “whose singular focus will be on issues of equity related to our return to Grounds and next fall.”

- The Racial Equity Task Force will include, if not already within scope, consideration of hiring and compensations issues. The group’s work will address concerns over recent responses to racial injustices and long-standing issues related to race at UVA. The Staff Senate is excited and grateful to be included in this task force’s efforts, and we would appreciate your support of our continued inclusion.     

- An academic division-wide mandate that all those who are able to work remotely do so for the fall 2020 semester. This mandate would help protect everyone and dispel the sense that staff wellbeing is secondary to that of students and faculty. While some autonomy must remain in the schools/units to fulfill business needs, having this mandate be the rule and not the exception will ensure fewer people are asked to put themselves, and others, in danger based on practices that may vary widely from unit to unit. 

We understand that these are unprecedented times in which difficult decisions must be made. Given this challenge, all parties deserve empathy and understanding. Staff Senate stands with you. We ask that you do your utmost to include staff perspectives, make decisions with our best interests at heart, and recognize staff members’ essential contributions. The Staff Senate, on behalf of our constituents, commits to partnering with you to achieve these goals.

Signed,

The Staff Senate Executive Committee

Leah Beard – Co-Chair

Kristie Smeltzer – Co-Chair

NyShae' Carter – Membership Co-Director

Patrick Wood – Membership Co-Director

Brandy Amos – Advocacy Co-Director

Adam Richard – Advocacy Co-Director

Christine Alencar – University Partnerships Co-Director

Adam Griggs – University Partnerships Co-Director

Michael Phillips – Past Co-Chair

Response from J.J. Wagner Davis and Liz Magill: 

Dear Staff Senate Executive Committee Members,

Thank you for your letter.  We appreciate you taking the time to reach out to us to share the Staff Senate’s thoughts and requests.  UVA HR is the executive sponsor of the Staff Senate, and thus we have included John Kosky, Interim Chief Human Resources Officer for HR Operations, and Michael Latsko, the liaison from UVA HR to the Staff Senate, on this response.

As you know, the challenges we have faced in recent months responding to the pandemic’s changing circumstances are like nothing we have experienced before. We have engaged subject matter experts from across Grounds in our response throughout the spring and in preparing for the Fall 2020 semester and the return of faculty, staff, and students to Grounds. Among those who have contributed their expertise throughout this time are dozens of staff colleagues from the Provost’s office, Facilities Management, Business Operations (including Housing, Dining, Parking & Transportation), UVA Finance, Information Technology, Safety and Security, Human Resources, the Office of the University Architect, the University Building Official’s office, Organizational Excellence, the Chief Operating Officer’s office, Environmental Health and Safety, the Vice President for Research’s office, Athletics, and Intramural-Rec Sports. In addition, the associate deans for administration and facility coordinators in each of the schools, units, and the library have been involved throughout the spring and summer. We have counted on them to keep us informed about operational and logistics questions and concerns throughout the schools, many of which relate directly to staff who work in their areas.

Senior Vice President for Operations Colette Sheehy has been overseeing the planning and implementation work related to Operations and Logistics and will continue to do so.  To ensure that this work is well and clearly communicated, this group is planning outreach to the Staff Senate and associate deans later this month to seek your feedback around the return to Grounds logistics that may need clarification or further communication.

The recommendations and implementation plans developed by these dozens, if not hundreds, of staff colleagues have been, and continue to be, essential to both our response and planning efforts. Simply put, without these valuable staff members, we could not be ready to resume any in-person instruction or research.

We are grateful for your interest in being engaged in the work related to equity that is part of our implementation efforts.  The leader of this work will be Ben Allen, the Executive Director of the Equity Center.  We will let him know of your interest in this work, and he is copied on this message.

On a related note but not directly tied to our work preparing for the arrival of students and the repopulation of Grounds, we are sharing your request about the scope of work for the Racial Equity Task Force with the three chairs of the group. We understand that they are scheduled to meet with Staff Senate and encourage you to continue this discussion with them.

In response to your request for an Academic Division mandate related to remote work for the Fall 2020 semester, we wrote to all Academic Division managers on June 30. As part of this communication, managers were charged with developing staffing plans that will be approved by a dean, vice president or vice provost.  Of note, this guidance indicated that faculty and staff are encouraged to continue telecommuting through July 31st (if agreed to by their deans and managers). Likewise, telecommuting will continue to be supported beyond July 31st in areas where work can be performed remotely. For reference, we have attached a copy of this communication as it provides greater detail on this topic.

During the live poll section of the June 10 town hall, staff clearly indicated that email is their preferred method of receiving information. We have been sharing news more frequently via email throughout the summer and expect to send out the first of a series of communications later this week. It would be helpful if we could partner with the Staff Senate Executive Committee to help us make sure that we are sharing information that matters to staff about the return to Grounds and the fall semester.  Michael Latsko will follow up with you about the best ways to do this through the summer months.

Thank you again for writing and for the work you do to advocate for Academic Division staff. We greatly value the many contributions that staff members make year-round and recognize the integral role they play in preparing for the return of students and resumption of in-person instruction and research.  We hope this finds you and your loved ones safe, healthy, and well during these challenging times. 

Very truly yours,

J.J. and Liz

Jennifer (J.J.) Wagner Davis
Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer

M. Elizabeth Magill
Executive Vice President and Provost