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U of L faculty and staff gather at open forum to voice concerns
By James El-Mallakh–
On Thursday, Sept. 20, the Universityof Louisville administration held an open forum for faculty and staff members to voice any questions or concerns to top members of the U of L administration.
The panel of administrators included President James Ramsey, Provost Shirley Willihnganz, Dr. David Dunn, the Executive Vice President for Health Affairs and William Pierce, the Executive Vice President for Research and Innovation. For an hour and a half, they fielded questions from the roughly 140 audience members in the Floyd Theatre.
Once the floor was open, the first issue that was raised was the fact that there is still smoking on all parts of campus despite U of L’s smoking ban. “[The smoking] is worse than ever this year,” said Beverly Edwards, a lecturer in the communications department. “In my opinion, I think we should go back to designated smoking areas.”
Willihnganz responded that returning the university to designated smoking areas was a possibility. Ramsey said that enforcing the no smoking ban would cost the university around $58,000.
Faculty and staff voiced fiscal concerns about the university. The questions and comments centered on the universities’ decisions regarding the fiscal state of U of L.
The first fiscal question came from Carol Hanchette, an associate professor in the department of geography and geosciences. Hanchette said that 10 percent of the department’s staff positions remain frozen due to U of L’s hiring freeze in January and that it has negatively affected them. “We are simply at the end of our ropes,” said Hanchette.
Willihnganz responded by reminding all those in attendance that individual overrides to the hiring freeze are possible. “If there is a real need for it, we have been approving [requests to hire],” said Willihnganz.
A discussion about salary increases also took place. Dawn Heinecken, an associate professor in the women and gender studies program, initiated the conversation. She expressed her concern over the university’s “piecemeal” method of deciding salary increases on a yearly basis. She asked of it were possible to “revise [U of L’s] systems of how we give raises.”
President Ramsey acknowledged pay raises for faculty and staff as a “huge area of concern.” Ramsey said part of the way raises are given is due to larger problems in the budget. According to Ramsey, the biggest problem is the successive statewide budget cuts that Kentucky universities have endured for 13 years. When discussing U of L’s financial circumstances, Ramsey often cites successive statewide budget cuts as the greatest area of concern for U of L’s budget.
“We’ve experienced eight budget cuts since 2008,” said Ramsey. He spoke about the question of allowing salary increases to occur while laying off employees to offset the cost.
“We as a campus community have come together and one of our budget principles has been to forgo salary increases to try to protect our employees [from layoffs],” said Ramsey. The University of Louisville laid off 12 workers over the summer, according to the director of media relations Mark Hebert, in a separate interview.
Ramsey and, in the past, Vice President for Finance, Mike Curtin, have attributed these layoffs to the decisions made by each department, not the administration.
Some of the other issues voiced by members of the audience were the incomplete nature of the online faculty and staff directory, a feeling that some faculty were disrespecting staff, the parking office being managed like a business with a minimal regard to customer service and a lack of grant allotments for Ekstrom library to update its inventory.
The audience spent slightly less than half of the time submitting questions and comments. The amount of time Ramsey and other three members spent answering questions occupied slightly more than half the time.
This is the first open forum of this type to be held by the U of L administration. The question and answer formats preceding this were mostly about U of L’s budget, with Ramsey presenting a PowerPoint and speaking for most of the time. Ramsey said this format is an attempt to get away from that. “That’s the only reason we’re here today. It’s to hear from you.”
“One thing I noticed was how appreciative everyone was,” said Hebert. “There wasn’t any anger. It was all sincere… I was pretty impressed.”
“I thought it was great,” said Pierce, one of the four panel members. “I think a lot of [the concerns] are problems that we know about. They’re just difficult to handle and equity and pay is always going to be a big one, as it should be.”
“A lot of these things boil back down to either policy decisions or resource allocation decisions,” Pierce continued.
Vicky Tencer, a unit business manager at the college of education, felt that the answers to the questions were generally on point. “I think this was a great start in listening and I think if [the administration] continues to do this it’ll make a difference.”
There is another meeting like this scheduled for Oct. 12.
Photos courtesy of UofL Today