Dear Faculty and Staff,
As we near the half-way point of our spring semester, I offer my deepest gratitude to all our employees. You have been remarkable sources of strength and resiliency during some of the most challenging times in our history. We truly are at a critical juncture with respect to employee morale and well-being – important issues that we talked about in depth at our March 15 town hall meeting and that are summarized in this message.
Please know that I fully acknowledge and express my empathy for what our faculty and staff have been through and offer a candid assessment of the hardships we face and my commitment to work through these with you.
Two years ago, on March 11 the WHO named COVID-19 a pandemic. Since then, more than 6 million people have lost their lives and more than 450 million people have been infected. Add to that the prolonged uncertainty, fear, changes in how and where we work, fraying social bonds and social isolation, and more that have deeply impacted our health and well-being.
Professor of Social Work Dimitri Topitzes and Dean of Students Adam Jussel surveyed UWM employees last year about how the pandemic was affecting them, and their findings were featured in this Chronicle of Higher Education article. Among the 631 who responded, 73% reported having one symptom of PTSD caused by the pandemic. Nearly 40% reported having three or more symptoms. There were mixed findings as well with 30% saying they weren’t optimistic about their careers/futures, and 35% saying their lives had improved during the pandemic. One surprising finding was that working – along with spending time with family, friends, pets, and getting outside – was a successful coping mechanism. I highly encourage you to take a look at the full report of the CoPES-19 survey results, authored by Dr. Topitzes, Dean Jussel, Distinguished Professor and Special Advisor to the Provost Nadya Fouad, and Michael Levandoski, a graduate student.
Because of you, at a foundational level, we have done our part in contributing to the health and safety of our students, employees, and community: testing, vaccines, PPE, and safe working conditions, along with continuous education. And, building on that, we have continued the education—the transformation of students from high schools and other IHEs into graduates. This opens doors and changes their lives in ways that nothing else (short of massive parental income!) can do.
What is democracy and what is the role of higher education? I’m not the first to express this, but I firmly believe that civilization—and democracy in particular—is a race between barbarism or anarchy and education. If we in public higher education don’t prevail, much will be lost. The people at UWM are literally better positioned to make a difference in our time of crisis than any group I know.
I also believe fervently that there is nothing more important for individual, family, and community prosperity than the twin pillars of education and employment. By providing for and from this region 5,000+ associates, bachelors, masters, and doctorate degrees each year, with the most diverse student body in the state of Wisconsin, there is simply no more important organization to change individuals’ and regional trajectories than UWM. As a result of your work, alumni have greater employment opportunities, home ownership, income levels, health outcomes, civic engagement and a host of other quality of life outcomes. And, your research changes the world, literally, through advances in healthcare, engineering, behavioral interventions, arts, environment, business, chemistry and many other areas.
At the same time, you’ve faced additional challenges and stressors with state funding cuts and depressed salaries, inflation, TTC, fewer colleagues to share your workload, and a feeling that you do not have time to be away from work, to name a few. These have been real hardships that have contributed to lower morale and burnout.
Responses to Challenges and Commitment to Support You
There are actions to improve your jobs and working conditions that we have taken and more to which we are committed. These include the following 18 areas:
1. Flexibility in your schedules with respect to when and where you work. While not all jobs have complete flexibility, I want you to engage with your supervisor to find and work toward the ideal circumstances for you. At UWM, we want to maximize the flexibility to find the best ways of working into the future. At the same time, UWM is an organization that heavily depends on our physical locations and “in-person” presence. With that in mind, I want to directly recognize the essential employees who have responsibilities that have required continued work on our campuses, day in and day out, throughout the pandemic, at times facing direct risk to themselves. UWM would not have made it through this pandemic without you.
2. Investing in employees: One of the most important and highest priority strategic investments we will make is in our employees. By the end of this semester, we will implement a one-time, 2% of salary lump-sum payout for most permanent employees. There will be a floor (minimum) salary increment of $1,000 for full-time employees, so that those at lower incomes will experience a higher percentage distribution. These payments will be prorated based on FTE status. Graduate assistants will receive a flat dollar amount. Details are here.
3. Encouragement for time off with faculty to take breaks as possible in summer and other times when classes are not in session and staff to use paid leave time. We all need time to refresh and renew ourselves.
4. Number and length of meetings: I ask you to critically engage in reviewing your meetings and revise them to be more efficient (shorter, oftentimes) and effective (fewer, only as needed).
5. Meaningful work: I want all supervisors to engage in compassionate leadership with their employees to determine how your jobs can be more participative and that you have a clear role in the future of your area.
6. Communication: We need to up our game. I expect all supervisors to not only share information in a timely way, but schedule time for open, two-way conversations about how the job is going, how employees can be more engaged and how we can improve the social support in the workplace, among other things.
7. Titling: We didn’t ask for TTC, and UW System has driven this at a scale and pace that has been challenging. In the long run, TTC is going to have many positives in that there is greater comparability across titles and positions and more alignment with external salary markets. In the short run, though, there is disruption and, again, change. This hasn’t been easy, but we have remarkable support from the Department of Human Resources (HR) and Shared Services teams. We are and will process appeals in a manner that is as transparent, inclusive, and collegial as possible, and continue to work to resolve TTC issues for as long as it takes.
- The recommendations to implement Teaching Professor and Research Professor titles are moving forward. Additionally, we will be using the new TTC titles of Teaching Faculty for instructional academic staff. The implementation guidelines are being finalized and will be made available to academic units next week.
8. Shared governance: I will continue to uphold the tenets of shared governance and consultative approaches. Witness how few campuses brought people together to discuss the relaxation of the mask mandate as UWM did.
9. Service: We have fewer employees as enrollments and our budget have declined, so fewer people are available for the same work. Yet shared governance remains a priority for us all. Our 2030 Implementation aligning and engaging workforce team has been reviewing faculty workload issues and will offer recommendations for service work this spring. Service is needed and valued; it’s the cornerstone of how we operate. As the University Committee has shown, we can streamline some of our governance work as the campus has evolved.
10. Employee engagement: Development and engagement are being examined for all employees, with implications for workload, recognition, and array of activities. Recommendations for implementation will be forthcoming later this year.
11. Our DEI efforts over the last few years have been more meaningful, measured, and pervasive. This work will never be complete, but the meaning behind DEI could not be more important for the current climate and future of UWM. The Region of Choice commitment will change our workplace—and progress is being made.
12. Creating a positive workplace: HR has hired an employee to help with this effort, including development of training for leaders and supervisors in faculty/staff engagement. Recognizing and celebrating our people are key underlying themes.
13. Building on our pillars: Where possible with enrollment growth, we will increase faculty ranks and are committed to both diversifying faculty and staff and strengthening our R1 stance.
14. Advocacy: In consultation with Provost Britz and others, I have recently approved a package of strategic investment of one-time campus funds to help further our 2030 goals. These include investments in advising and student success, seed funding for growth of online programs, scholarships and recruiting, and student facing technology. Also included are investments in critical technology infrastructure.
15. EAP support for mental, physical, and financial health and well-being: Please don’t be afraid to ask for help; trained professionals are available to confidentially help you. You can find more details here.
16. Creating a sense of belonging: I engaged our Cabinet, your leadership, to work with all employees to develop social activities and events that provide opportunities for bonding in and out of the workplace: softball, lunches, dinners, internal celebrations of accomplishments, etc. These can be promoted from anyone and from any role or position.
17. Creating supportive environments: We have held 55 campus workshops with over 610 participants on trauma-informed care, teaching faculty and staff how to create more supportive, positive environments for students and employees. More are scheduled for the remainder of the year, and these provide toolkits with specific guides for actions and behaviors that improve the workplace. I encourage you to participate if you haven’t already.
18. Care and respect: Finally, I ask with all simplicity and humility, please offer your care, respect, and kindness to each other. One can never know what is going on under the surface with people. Despite the conflicts that rage abroad and domestically, UWM has been and can be even more our haven of peace, belonging, moderation and joy.
Bullish for our Future
I am confident that UWM has great days ahead. Our mission is the right focus at the right time – now. It’s long overdue to have access and research recognized as well as they are today. Funding opportunities are receiving substantial support at the Regent level, but we know this is a long game. We have fresh leadership with a high commitment to building UWS branding, enrollment, educational technology infrastructure, and engagement with local communities. And most of all, I am buoyed by you. Your talent, experience, dedication, and hard work has and will enable us to overcome adversity and succeed. Thank you.
Mark A. Mone, PhD