Ideas, Questions Emerge During Staff Council Town Hall Meeting

The August sun was shining brightly outside M.D. Anderson Library’s Rockwell Pavilion. Inside, however, University of Houston staff members were engaged in a Category 5 brainstorming session.

This assembly was the product of the UH Staff Council’s first Town Hall meeting. During this event, staff members were encouraged to candidly discuss a host of topics including compensation, performance evaluations and campus communication. Many of the selected discussion topics were adopted from categories in the 2009-2010 UH Staff Survey. Unlike the council's Staff Forums, staff members were tasked with generating the discussion as opposed to posing questions to administrators.

UH President Renu Khator, however, did address the audience and conducted a brief Q&A session. She told staff members that Texas universities may face future budget challenges and encouraged them to remain strong in spite of such circumstances.

"If we are focused, strategic and have passion in our hearts, I know we can come out of any situation stronger than before," she said. "Today, we will need your ideas and suggestions, so we can listen to your advice and learn how this university can continue to grow."

One of the questions posed during the meeting asked how staff could be further engaged in UH's Tier-One mission. One staff member replied that perhaps a committee should be assigned to examine other Tier-One universities and the staff is role in achieving and retaining this designation.

"There must have been some recorded effort that we can review such as reports or surveys," she said. "This would be a great learning tool for us."

Another staff member suggested that strategic planning was essential in any office or department regardless of the size. Having a strong vision, she said, is essential toward any institutional goal and promoting a sense of pride in the university.

On the topic of compensation, this same staff member voiced concern about merit raises. She suggested that the university consider cost-of-living raises.

"Often times, merit raises are not used for merit. Many departments use them as cost-of-living increases," she said. "That can be unfair for people who are exceptional employees. Fair is not the same as equal. If everyone received cost-of-living raises, then they might feel more rewarded when they received a salary increase based on merit."

Ann McFarland, UH Staff Council president and director of the Office for Community Projects in the Graduate College of Social Work, said the ideas discussed during the meeting were being documented. They will make their way into the council's committees for further consideration and discussion among council representatives and administrators.

Joan Nelson, executive director for UH’s human resources (HR), acknowledged that much of the meeting's subject matter related to her department. She assured attendees that HR would work with Staff Council in diligently reviewing the data collected during the meeting.

"Part of the action plan following this meeting is HR partnering with Staff Council to look at the issues we can control and what we can change," she said. "We will work with the council to implement some of these changes."

Mike Emery