After two years of discussion and research, the Staff Senate Working Group (SSWG) has chosen the first round of senators to serve in the Staff Senate.
The new group will represent non-faculty employees across campus in a variety of departments, from Physical Plant to Campus Safety, Student Aid, Financial Aid and more.
Much like UP’s Academic Senate for faculty, the Staff Senate will advocate for employees on various issues including compensation and benefits, workplace culture and communication with administration.
“I saw that there was this gap in communication lines and I thought it would be a good opportunity to get involved and to help propagate [the Staff Senate] so that we could increase the lines of communication between administration and staff,” Stephanie Pollard, associate director of Graduate Admissions said.
Composed of 15 total senators, the Academics, Operations and Student Affairs divisions will each have three senators and Athletics with two. Marketing and Communications, University Relations, Finance and Human Resources will each have one representative.
Their first meeting will be in January of 2023 and will regularly occur once a month.
Efforts from the SSWG started in 2020 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic when a group of staff members came together online and discussed ways to improve their line of communication with administration.
“There was a group of staff and faculty who were just online,” Clark Library digital lab coordinator Jose Velazco said. “Coming to the realization that we were going to go into lockdown, I think that these conversations came organically from people working at home.”
Velazco was a part of the original group of people first involved with the SSWG, with previous members involved having left the University.
Currently, Pollard and Velazco, alongside computer support specialist in Information Services Jim Axling and administrative assistants to the dean, Jericho Knight and Laurence Cox are the standing members of the SSWG.
“We maybe had 12 to 15 folks to start but at that time as well, we didn’t know what we were going to do,” Velazco said. “And then with the Great Resignation and that sort of thing, people left for other jobs.”
A staff survey done in July of 2021 showed 32.5% of staff stating they were looking for new employment due to their needs not being met or feeling stretched thin in their position. Former staff members have also expressed that their salaries aren’t a livable wage.
To make improvements, the University hired a consultant to do an extensive year-long staff compensation study — done previously with faculty. Results are tentatively scheduled to be published in July of 2023.
When the results come out, the University plans on using the information gathered to make improvements with the staff salaries.
“We did it for the faculty and we're making improvements,” Vice President of Human Resources and Staff Senate liaison Dana Lopez said. “Now we're moving to the staff and hopefully, those same kinds of improvements over time.”
A UP alum, Axling was a part of the ASUP senate when he was a student. He describes them to be the immediate point of communication between students and administration and emphasizes that the formation of the Staff Senate mirrors what ASUP’s goals are for the student body.
“This effort models what we want for students, which is to be really involved,” Axling said.
The Staff Senate’s goal of improving communication between staff and the University hopes to benefit the student experience at UP.
“[The Staff Senate] attracts and retains a set of staff that can feel like they have an opportunity to have dialogue with administration,” Velazco said. “This means that for a student, and even alumni, there is continuity within the University.”
In the future, the SSWG hopes to implement discourse on the Staff Senate from students, staff and faculty through a feedback conference. This idea was inspired by President Kelly’s experience with Staff Senates at prior institutions.
“We would love to hear from students and we appreciate the support that has already been demonstrated,” Pollard said. “As the Staff Senate continues to form there will be future opportunities for involvement.”
Janea Melido is the Copy Editor for The Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.