Monday, December 29, 2008

Who Silenced Us?

A cult-like abhorrence to question anything uttered by Old Main pervades Penn State's culture. Silence and apathy are the glues that bind the Penn State way.

If you work at Penn State, decisions are made by the administration and those edicts are expected to be treated as though they're etched on stone tablets and brought down from Old Main by Moses.

Your opinion on tuition hikes, salary cuts, job titles, working conditions, spending decisions and building projects aren't needed. After all, you're fortunate just to have a job. Managers have little say if those decisions are off target, either; they're just responsible for pulling the trigger.

Penn State employees are disconnected from the Penn State legacy, a legacy that is reserved for deans and presidents, trustees and chancellors, whose pictures, they believe, will one day adorn the hallowed halls and ivory towers that they spend so much money on.

And, exactly, what type of legacy will it be? High tuition. Crippling debt. Reckless spending. Declining wages. Hostile working conditions.

It's time that Penn State staff members realize that they are critical in re-righting one of Pennsylvania's proudest educational institutions. If we are expected to sacrifice, we should at least be able to add a voice to the decisions that affect our students and our future.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Sacrificing Staff

President Spanier recently added to remarks he gave to the Faculty Senate. In this latest round of remarks, he continued the theme of the sacrifices that would be needed by students, faculty, and staff members.

He also mentioned that while the University was in good shape, fiscally speaking, these were tough times economically. (He did seem to stop short of saying that the University was in excellent financial shape... which I attribute to the massive debt taken on by new building projects.) Lower state funds and higher medical insurance were just some of the fiscal challenges that Spanier mentioned.

Those sacrifices include higher workloads, higher tuition, and lower wages.

These steps may be unavoidable and the staff, as usual, is prepared. What I felt was missing was any mention of the continual sacrifices of the staff over the past years, years when record tuition and record enrollment would lead one to believe that revenue would outstrip the small sum of state monies. However, salary increases have been lower than the pace of inflation and employee's pay for a higher share of health insurance costs as their choices of health insurance plans decrease. Higher fees, longer hours, and congested commutes have taken their toll on staff, as well.

It doesn't end there. The staff of Penn State has been instrumental in taking Penn State from a paper-shuffling bureaucracy to a more tech-savvy operation and, despite the glitches, there's no doubt that the University is a much more efficient, more productive place than it was 10 or 15 years ago.

This innovation has gone unrewarded and, one could say, that it's only been punished.

Why has this happened?

Penn State staff has no independent voice. Their needs are secondary (if they are considered at all).

Penn State staff members will meet the fiscal and technological challenges that we are facing, but will the University meet its obligations to the staff after this economic strife has passed?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Parking Prediction

Penn State employees pay to park.
And it's not for convenience.
In the University's push to create a pedestrian campus, they forgot to create the necessary spaces on the edges of campus that would make the walk to work more convenient. So, most parking is slapped at the edge--the very hinterland--of campus, near the Bryce Jordan Center. Or, workers can brave the suicidal traffic in one of the parking decks.
For this, staff members pay over $400 a year. Recently, when Penn State raised salaries a paltry 2 percent, they yanked up parking fees over 10 percent.
There's no employer in the region that forces their employees to pay these types of exorbitant rates.
Parking has become a source of revenue for the University.
There are already rumors that parking fees will go up and some lots that were free will now require permits.
Why should we be surprised?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Happy Holidays From Penn State

I'm glad the administration has some spare money to produce a video Holiday greeting card.

Next year, maybe they can raise our parking fees and produce a full-length video greetings.
I wish I could get paid for every time I hear bumbling inanities in the office. "Make an Impact." "Throw a Fish." "Do more."

Friday, December 12, 2008

Penn State Values and the Value of Penn State Staff

What is the core of Penn State values?
It isn't people.
In the most recent strategic plan the word "staff" is found three times, and only then referring to diversity and resource sharing.
The words "employee" or "employees" never appear.
Contrast this with one of the State College area's premier employers Restek. They make employees the center of their values.
From their Culture and Philosophy page:
Restek was founded on the vision of a place where people look forward to coming to work as much as they look forward to going home—a vision of a company whose successes make it a model for others to emulate.
What is more troubling is that Penn State's core mission, according to the Strategic Plan, is:
"Penn State will be the nation’s finest university in the
integration of teaching, research, and service."

Teaching? That requires people.
Research? That requires people.
Service? That requires people.
The lack of respect for staff and the minimal value the administration holds for the people charged with accomplishing these tasks doom these objectives.
In the lofty rush to become "the nation's finest university" and a Big Ten powerhouse, to build snazzy buildings and concert venues, the administration and leadership has lost focused of what made Penn State a great university: People.
Recent actions are just a reflection of this attitude.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Thankful Is A Two-Way Street

By now you've heard the corporate mantra--you should just be thankful you have a job.
And we should.
By now, we've heard a couple of comments like this one, which appeared as a comment to the CDT story:

The point is, you're a bunch of whiners, but you know you have the best gig and can't leave. Appreciate it!

Your job security should be worth an extra few grand to you -- because there's not many other places looking to hire whiners right now!

Penn State staff is often portrayed as a bunch of pampered slackers. But, it hasn't been my experience, the slacking is no more rampant than in other jobs, I suspect. Probably less so, because most of these critics probably don't understand the depth of the bureaucracy at Penn State and the lack of leadership.
Each year students come to the Penn State system in record numbers, each year Penn State staff is pushed to the brink of capacity.
Don't sell yourselves short. The University could not run without you.
The leadership at Penn State should be thankful, too.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

No Raises for Penn State Staff

After a string of puny raises during so-called "good times," Penn State leadership will offer staff no raises during the lean times we face.

"Penn State employees shouldn’t count on pay raises next year.

That was the message from President Graham Spanier when he spoke Tuesday to the Faculty Senate. He said he doesn’t want to rule out the possibility of pay increases and plans to watch closely what unfolds in the coming months, but he said such increases aren’t likely."

No doubt, we'll hear how "important we are to the University" and then hear off-handed comments that "we're lucky to have jobs" over the next couple months.

The University, which has gone on a decade-long spending and building binge, now decides the folks who should pay for it are the staff and students.

More on this later, I'm sure.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Cost of a Nice Vacation

If you talk to your colleagues at Penn State and mention the mimimal raises over the past few years, you won't get a debate.

Raises at Penn State have categorically not kept up with inflation. Last year's two percent average raise was well below the pace of inflation. Compared to other industries, the raises are creating a larger disparity between what outside industries pay and what a Penn Stater earns. To make it harder to swallow, the low raises come in the midst of huge, billion-dollar building projects and increases in fees for the privelige of working at Penn State--like a 10 percent hike in parking fees to park at lots conveniently located a mile a way from your building.

If you mention the raises... or lack thereof... to your co-workers or leadership what you will get is excuses.

The first excuse is "but you get so much vacation time!"

The vacation time at Penn State is outstanding: about six weeks. Then there's 12 days sick leave. And a great Christmas break.

On the other hand, this quality of life benefit is being adopted by other companies. While most companies don't offer this much time out-of-the-gate, more and more are offering four weeks vacation, two weeks sick and personal leave, in addition to the standard holidays and a week off for the holidays, after the employee has been there for so many years.

So, essentially, we're talking about two-to-four weeks of vacation time. The question is, does that two-to-four weeks of salary equal the amount of extra money you would earn in other companies. Penn State usually lags anywhere between $4,000 and $12,000, depending on the position, based on anecdotal conversations with new hires.

Another factor that is slowly eroding this time off is the increased workload. Over the years, leadership and management has asked staff to become "more corporate." We look toward increasing efficiency and productivity, while trying to keep costs down. But, the workload has increased dramatically. More workers are skipping vacation; some still take their use-them-or-lose-them days, but they come back to an awaiting load of unfinished business.

Maybe this time-off is worth it. Maybe it's not. It's worth thinking about and it's worth checking.