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Montana University System Staff Association

MUSSA presentation to Board of Regents January 14, 2010 in Helena, MT

MUSSA members present Wyatt Conard and Jennifer Schade, UM Helena College of Technology; Darlene Samson and Kathy White, UM Missoula; Julie Strobel, MSU Northern; and Kevin Thane and Joan Ford, MSU Bozeman.

MUSSA members met prior to the lunch presentation to the Board of Regents.  Kevin gave an overview of MUSSA’s history and past dealing with the Regents for new MUSSA members.  MUSSA members then discussed issues specific to their campuses and classified employees.  The group finalized the agenda for the Regents lunch presentation, Kevin was selected to speak first and the order of the remaining speakers was agreed upon.  The planning meeting was concluded.

Joan started the lunch presentation by greeting the Commissioner of Higher Education, Regents, and other guests.  She stated that staff members make contributions on each campus and that staff is often the first face of the University.  Staff contributes to student retention, serves budget and fiscal mangers, is integral to the work done in preparation for accreditation, and has personal interactions with students on a daily basis.  She then introduced the MUSSA members present and turned the meeting over to the staff association leaders.

On behalf of MUSSA Kevin Thane gave an overview of the state of classified staff.  He noted the important work done by the Recruitment and Retention Task Force which was referenced by Commissioner Stearns during the Regents meeting earlier in the day, and supported having the report of the Task Force included in the 2010 Strategic Plan update.  He noted that MUSSA encourages the Regents to continue to take a proactive approach during the current legislative budget cycle and stated MUSSA's affirmation for this approach as it was demonstrated in the last cycle.  MUSSA stressed the willingness of classified employees to work together with their institutions and the Board of Regents to weather the current economic downturn and continue providing the best possible service to students, while noting that increased numbers of students and diminishing numbers of staff has stretched the limits of classified employees and is resulting in diminished services to students.  The MUSSA overview was then followed by reports from the individual campuses.

MSU Bozeman - All campuses are doing more with less staff and MSU Bozeman is no different.  Because of this the Staff Senate at MSU Bozeman has formed committees to deal with retention, training, and morale. 

In the past it had been difficult to fill positions and there were a low number of employees.  MSU-Bozeman enjoyed a short period of full employment but currently some vacancies are not being filled due to the state of the economy even though student enrollment has increased significantly.   Given this situation and understanding that the retention of qualified, experienced, and motivated employees is vital to the long term health of the institution, the MSU-Bozeman Staff Senate requested that the Regents review the MUS Staff Compensation Plan – Pay Guidelines, which state “Hiring authorities may not pay a newly-hired employee a higher entry rate than the base rate being paid any other employee with the same job title on the campus at which the vacancy exists”. 

It was noted that the MSU-Bozeman Staff Senate supported the fact that MSU's new president was hired because of her experience and expertise and was compensated accordingly.  It was also mentioned that just as Provost Angstrom indicated in his presentation to the Regents earlier in the day (dealing with building competitive research in Montana) that appropriate compensation at time of hire is necessary to recruit and retain competitive faculty, the same holds true for recruitment and retention of the best classified employees.  The Staff Senate position is that the current policy concerning hiring new staff prohibits compensating a new employee for experience that person may bring to the job and as a result diminishes the possibilities for retaining experienced staff once the economy recovers.  It is the position of the MSU-Bozeman Staff Senate that this policy should be amended to allow hiring new classified employees at any level between the low and high entry rates established by the MUS Human Resource Directors.   

Julie noted MSU Northern had a modest increase in enrollment.  Staff levels have remained the same and many staff members are shifting duties or working in multiple departments to serve the students.  She noted that the campus was closed between Christmas and New Years and that staff either used their vacation or took the time as unpaid.

Wyatt reported that UM Helena – College of Technology has seen a significant increase in enrollment.  The campus has done some hiring but noted there are about 31 front line staff members serving this larger number of students.  Jennifer who works in the Admissions office noted that for spring session, during the week of January 11-15, they have processed and advised on 100 applications and have approximately 60 applications still needing processing in less than a week before the session begins.  She relayed that she counseled three new, non-traditional students, in the fall and all three came back to her to report that they made the dean’s list.

Darlene stated given the current economic climate, the Mission of the Montana University System is more appropriate than ever—“ to serve students through the delivery of high quality, accessible postsecondary educational opportunities, while actively participating in the preservation and advancement of Montana's economy and society.”  The hard-working and dedicated staff at the University of Montana-Missoula are wholeheartedly committed to that mission.  Offering support and assistance and will continue to do so, despite the financial hardships that they face.  Staff enjoys the work they do every day in fulfillment of the promise made to their customers—the students of UM. 

UM’s Staff Senate views retention of current staff as crucial to delivering that mission, especially in consideration of the 5% enrollment increase in the past year.  Concurrently, UM is also facing a staff reduction.  In light of this dichotomy, it is easy to understand why workloads continue to grow.  It is recognized that UM students pay dearly for a quality educational experience at UM which will become increasingly difficult to provide with limited resources.  UM supports the reduction of incidentals and frills, such as allocations for entertainment and travel, in favor of retaining current staff employees.

UM recognized that the Montana University System is not alone in its struggles—other universities throughout our nation have been forced to implement drastic measures to balance their budgets.  UM is aware of the severity and complexity of the situation.  UM hopes that the Board of Regents recognizes the significant contribution of staff to the operation of the university, and that budget rescissions will equitably affect all categories of employees.  Too often, staff are considered incidental and are the first to face unemployment.  The UM Staff Senate sincerely hopes that will not be the case.

Staff contributions are many and varied across the UM campus, but highlighted a few:

  • Student Retention:  Staff at UM participated in a student retention initiative by forming the Staff Workforce for Student Retention.  We labored for five months and presented a comprehensive initiative to support this issue.  Our Provost, Assistant Provost, and Vice President for Student Affairs applauded the recommendations made by nineteen staff who participated in this effort.  When implemented, these measures will significantly increase student retention. 
  • Operational Support Advisory Team:  A representative group of classified staff across our campus has been working to engage staff in design and development with systems and training to increase operational efficiencies, including online tutorials.  This effort will enhance moral and well-being, thus improving staff retention.
  • Accreditation:  This important issue requires research into the accrediting agency’s standards, and comparison of those standards against the offerings of the academic unit.  Frequently this task, as well as writing, editing, compiling, and disseminating the unit’s self study, is the responsibility of a staff member.

UM Missoula empathized with the Board of Regents, as the Regents are charged with making some difficult decisions.  UM trusts that those decisions will be fair and equitable, knowing that Montana’s future—its youth—rests in the Regents hands.

The meeting wrapped up with Regent Barrett thanking the Staff Senate leaders.  He commented that there are no easy answers or for that matter no easy questions when it comes to the economy and how to fund the Universities in the Montana University System.

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