Staff council

History lecturer Van Herd fills up his water bottle at a water bottle filler station outside of RLM on Monday afternoon. The multi-level fountain is one of 13 locations where students can refill bottles.

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

Eco-minded students will have more hydration options around campus with 13 new installations specifically designed to refill water bottles.

The installation project, which was initiated by Student Government and Staff Council and started in early September, has taken existing water fountains and created a space to accommodate water bottles. The project will be completed next week with the last two water bottle fillers being installed in the Communications Building A.

Shannon Hanney, project planning and production control manager, said he thinks the installations will be well-received because of the student initiative behind the installation.

“Facilities that have those water fountains installed and have the monitoring feature [to track usage] have shown to be popular with students,” Hanney said. “We’re certainly glad to support it.”

Hanney said Staff Council and Student Government worked together to identify the 13 water bottle filler locations. He said the project cost to date, including materials, is $1,437, which was funded by the UT Green Fee Committee. The Green Fee account includes the $5 fee added to every UT students’ tuition during each long semester.

Collaboration between the UT Green Fee committee and Student Government resulted in an outdoor water fountain project that implemented a multi-level water fountain and water bottle filler station outside the RLM building.

Mike Debow, associate director of Project Management and Construction Services, said the fountains will help make the campus more environmentally sustainable.

“We’ve installed what I call the upside-down J fountain,” DeBow said. “Someone can take a personally-owned water bottle and fill it up, which cuts down on trash and [disposable waste].”

Student body president Horacio Villarreal said the project was undertaken as part of an effort to have more accessible water options across campus.

“We’re very excited to see the hard work of Student Government members come to fruition after the long, dedicated work that each put in,” Villarreal said.

Villarreal said he hopes the water bottle fillers will influence student health and wellness. 

“By providing these bottle fillers, we certainly hope that more students are utilizing these services so that we may continue to implement water bottle fillers across campus,” Villarreal said.

Villarreal said there are not any plans right now to implement more fillers, but Student Government will monitor the frequency with which the fountains are being used.

“If we see a high demand, then we will certainly make a case for more water bottle fillers,” Villarreal said. 

Chair of staff council Erika Frahm leads a discussion about UT staff interests at the UT Staff Council General Assembly on Thursday afternoon. 

Photo Credit: Yamel Thompson | Daily Texan Staff

To prepare questions for UT administrators, the Staff Council asked University employees to share concerns about coming employment changes affecting the 40 Acres at the council’s monthly meeting Thursday. 

The council’s officers will meet with President William Powers Jr. on Friday to ask administrators about how last month’s report from the Committee on Business Productivity will affect various departments across campus, and how staff will be involved in that discussion.

The 13-member committee, formed by Powers last spring, recommended a number of proposals to cut costs for the University, including centralizing administrative functions and raising rates or outsourcing parts of UT food, housing and parking services.

“What we are hearing now from the president’s office is that this is going to be a very slow process, not an immediate mandate,” said Staff Council chairwoman Erika Frahm. “We understand nerves are frayed and tensions are running high, but that’s what we’re hearing right now.”

Vicki Grier, a research coordinator in the College of Natural Sciences, said she is concerned about the quality of work done if services like custodial work are outsourced in the future.

“We’ve already had custodial outsourced at [The Dell Pediatric Institute] and the people we’ve brought in have been absolutely horrible and [there have] been constant complaints,” Grier said. “The savings cannot be worth whatever the quality loss is.” 

Stuart Tendler, a graduate admissions coordinator in the College of Liberal Arts and liaison for Parking Transportation Services, said PTS would have to completely reconfigure its business model to adjust to the new proposals. The Committee advised UT to raise parking rates by 7.5 percent every year for the next 15 years to reach market value. 

“The bottom line is that PTS is changing and being told that it has to contribute money to the University,” Tendler said. “Until this year they’ve only funded their own operations and now they’ve been identified as a unit that can contribute a return to the University’s budget. And that has implications for everyone on campus.”

Lizbell Bevington, an administrative associate in Facilities Services, said she was already worried about the possibility of losing her job because of restructuring. 

“In this harsh economy, people are wondering where they are going to go if something happens,” Bevington said. “In my office alone, I’ve had two managers and one assistant go. I fear that it’s going to happen, although it may not happen soon. And if it happens, how much time will I have [to find a job]?”

Powers will be present at the next Staff Council meeting in March to meet with any staff wanting to share their concerns. In the meantime, the Staff Council is also trying to organize an open forum meeting to engage UT community and administration in a discussion about the proposals, Frahm said.

Published on February 22, 2013 as "Staff council to hear budget worries". 

A student smokes outside of the Communications plaza Thursday evening. The university could lose millions of research dollars from one of its top research funders if it does not adopt a tobacco-free policy by March 1.

Photo Credit: Shea Carley | Daily Texan Staff

Fumes from the University’s tobacco policy have ignited conversation over the future of the substance on UT grounds.

Because of a new provision from one of the University’s top research funders, UT will need to enact a tobacco-free policy or risk losing millions of research dollars.

The Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas, a voter-mandated organization that awards millions of research dollars each year to entities pursuing cancer research, released a statement on Feb. 2 stating it will now require all current and future grantees to create tobacco-free workplaces as a condition for accepting the Institute’s funds. UT currently receives approximately $31 million for cancer research from the Institute and is applying for $88 million this year.

The Institute has given UT until March 1 to make appropriate policy changes.

In a campus-wide email on Wednesday, University officials said they will be meeting with various organizations on campus — including Student Government, Faculty Council and Staff Council — over the next two weeks to discuss policy options. University spokeswoman Adrienne Howarth-Moore said losing this money would be detrimental to the University’s research endeavors.

Howarth-Moore said if the University adopts a tobacco-free policy by March 1, it will seek to support current tobacco users by providing education and resources.

“Education, communication and helping people understand the reason behind the change is going to be a challenge,” Howarth-Moore said. “We don’t just have a focus on research, but cancer research. We want to be able to eradicate cancer.”

If adopted, the smoking ban will also restrict smoking and tobacco during times of sporting events and tailgates, Howarth-Moore said. Exceptions will only occur in special circumstances, such as when tobacco is used for research or as a prop in a fine arts production.

Current UT policy on tobacco only addresses smoking tobacco, which is not allowed in any University-owned or leased building or vehicle, but is allowed on campus as long as it is 20 feet away from a building entrance. UT-Arlington, UT-Brownsville and the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio are currently tobacco-free. Austin Community College, Huston-Tillotson University and Texas State University all banned tobacco use on campus last year.

In March 2011, UT President William Powers, Jr. said he opposed a campus-wide ban on smoking during an address to Staff Council. Powers said such a ban would overstep the limits a University should impose on its community.

“What we’re doing is saying we are going to limit the freedom of the person who wants to smoke for the benefit of the people who don’t want to be in a smoke-filled office or room,” Powers said in the address, according to a March 2011 Daily Texan article.

Student Government passed a resolution in 2011 declaring UT to become generally smoke-free campus over a period of seven years. The resolution called for the creation of a taskforce to decide policy implementation and an expansion of the University Health Services student smoking cessation program “Quitters” to extend to faculty and staff. SG and the Student Organization Safety Board recently co-sponsored “Tobacco Talks,” a series of conversations with professionals and students on campus to discuss the negative effects of tobacco.

Philip Huang, medical director for the Austin-Travis County health and human services department, spoke at Tobacco Talks on Thursday and said many entities around Austin have implemented tobacco-free policies, including City of Austin libraries, Capital Metro and Austin Parks and Recreation centers. Huang said 70 percent of people surveyed by Travis County said they wanted to quit smoking and 60 percent of all litter in 32 Austin parks comes from tobacco, equaling to approximately 23,000 cigarette butts.

Huang said a tobacco-free policy is a step in the right direction for UT and that in four years incoming students will know no other policy.

“A lot of it is changing social norms,” Huang said. “A lot of people put up with other peoples’ smoke but they hate it. People have more of a right to breathe clean air than smokers have the right to smoke.”

Alfred McAlister, public health adjunct associate professor, said the Institute’s decision will encourage administrators to consider a new tobacco policy. McAlister advised the UT Texas Public Health student organization in conducting a recent survey to gauge student opinion of smoking on campus.

Of the 1,551 respondents, 77 percent indicated they want a stronger tobacco policy at UT. Among the people who identified as smokers and took the survey, approximately 33 percent said they wanted stricter limits on tobacco use.

“I imagine the survey results will convince President Powers that there is a lot more support for a new tobacco policy than he might have supposed,” McAlister said. “It’s been a bit embarrassing for this University to be one of the last schools that’s not tobacco free.”

McAlister said some of the benefits of a tobacco-free campus would include less exposure to second-hand smoke and less tobacco litter. He said a ban would also help encourage smokers to quit and prevent some students from starting to smoke.

Thomas Haviland, public health senior and president of the UT Texas Public Health Organization, said there is a definite possibility UT will implement a tobacco-free policy on campus. Haviland said he has seen people violating the current policy all over campus and smoking within 20 feet of buildings, some of which contain ashtrays five feet away from their entrance.

Haviland said even though the Institute’s decision plays a huge part in the administration’s actions, the issue has been building up and needed to be addressed.

“They had to do something,” Haviland said. “On top of student desire, health benefits and financial savings, a lot of people on campus really do want it.”

University President William Powers Jr., said he opposes a campus-wide ban on smoking in his annual address to UT staff on Thursday. Powers told Staff Council a complete ban on smoking would overstep the appropriate limits the University currently places on where individuals can smoke. “What we’re doing is saying we are going to limit the freedom of the person who wants to smoke for the benefit of the people who don’t want to be in a smoke-filled office or room,” Powers said. “I think that is perfectly appropriate, and I agree with that.” This month, Student Government passed a resolution calling for a seven-year process to ban smoking campus-wide. The resolution would also make the University Health Services’ Quitters smoking-cessation classes available to faculty and staff without a fee. The four-class program is already available to students free of charge and to staff and faculty for a fee. SG’s version of the rule would allow certain exceptions to the ban, similar to the way tailgating and the bar at the Cactus Cafe have become exceptions to the dry-campus policy, said SG administrative director Nathan Bunch when the student assembly passed the resolution. Powers said he understands limits on smoking in certain areas, possibly including outdoor areas, but said a complete ban alienates too many people. “I think we ought to have reasonable places for our family — staff, students, faculty — whether I agree with them smoking or not, to accommodate their interests,” Powers said. “There are students and faculty and staff who smoke. Do we want to say to them, ‘You can’t work here?’” Staff Council chairman Ben Bond said members of the council have expressed support for each side of the issue. He said the council will discuss a resolution during its next monthly meeting. “I honestly don’t have a sense of where the council is going to come down on this,” Bond said. Phillip Hebert, administrative associate in the College of Natural Sciences and council member, said he completely opposes a smoking ban. He said he thinks dealing with the possibility of more staff layoffs should take precedence to any work on a smoking ban. “We are facing extremely hard times right now, with colleagues being laid off and positions being lost to attrition,” Hebert said. “I think it’s the wrong time to focus energy and resources on something as insignificant as smoking while you’re walking outside.” During his address, Powers said more small-scale layoffs could be on the way for staff, in addition to hundreds of layoffs during the last budget cycle. He said whether more staff are laid off and how many are laid off depends on the state’s general allocations and on specific departments’ plans for dealing with budget shortfalls. The Legislative Budget Board, an agency that recommends cuts to state agencies, suggested a $93.2 million cut to the UT budget. The University will probably be able to avoid any large-scale layoffs requiring reorganization of administration, he said. “I wish I could say we have budget plans that will avoid all layoffs, but I can’t say that,” Powers said.

Staff Council passed a resolution on Thursday calling for Human Resource Services to provide comprehensive, easy-to-access information about the layoff process in response to repeated complaints of anxiety and confusion. As UT slashes budgets and departments continue to lay off employees, staff feel helpless against the sea change, council representatives said. The resolution requests that UT’s Human Resource Services provide an online look at the steps departments have to follow to lay off an employee, an outline of benefits they can receive and information about how losing one’s job can influence an employee’s retirement plan. Erika Frahm, chairwoman of the job security ad hoc committee, said when staff members feel there is information not being made available to them or that they cannot find, confusion can lead to stress and anxiety. Both the layoff process and the job evaluation process can create stress for workers, she said. “We felt that if people understood what information is there, then that would let them be more proactive and they wouldn’t feel powerless,” Frahm said. Human Resource Services is on board with the resolution and will get started right away, said Julien Carter, associate vice president for the department. “We very much appreciate their advice and viewpoint of things they want to see highlighted on our website, so we’ll make it a priority to implement their suggestions,” Carter said. The job security ad hoc committee aims to pass two more initiatives — one to create a guidebook for employees who get laid off and another to write a set of recommendations for UT President William Powers Jr. in regard to staff management. The committee is working faster than most, trying to get resolutions passed by early spring. From September 2009 to June 2010, UT laid off 273 employees because of budgetary constraints, according to human resources data. With a possible 10-percent budget cut affecting the 2012-13 biennium and an additional 2- to 3-percent cut going into effect this biennium, the University will have to lay off hundreds of employees in the next few years. At Thursday’s meeting, the council also requested HRS provide online information about the performance evaluation process, including a simplified version of the evaluation policy, how to obtain evaluation records and how to contest discrepancies and guidelines for productive dialogue between employees and managers. All the information should be available in both English and Spanish, according to the request. Communication is essential in times of crisis, and the council’s efforts only bolster communication, said Staff Council Chairman Ben Bond. “Even for people who aren’t affected by layoffs, having the information helps prepare them, because it could happen,” Bond said. “Plus, odds are they know people who are being laid off. It helps them understand what they’re going through.” Anxiety among UT staff members is the council’s first priority, and the resolution will aid staff members if they do not fully understand the processes or have faith that department heads are cutting for the benefit of the entire University, said Jennifer McClain, a staff council member and senior administrative associate in the Division of Housing and Food Service. “Being able to outline how the procedure works will not only let people know that it is being looked at, but that we’re actually considering as many options as possible,” McClain said. “We’re not going to change the fact that the budget is a problem and that we don’t have enough money, but at least people won’t be so fearful.”

In early October, Dianne Kline received a short letter saying she would become one of the more than 270 UT employees quietly laid off this year because of budget cuts.

A senior administrative associate for the Center of Teaching and Learning, Kline had worked at UT for nine years. She said when she and a few co-workers were laid off, the management in her department handled the process poorly and should have communicated their decisions in a more timely and efficient manner.

“People were anxious, and they were left wandering for a considerable amount of time,” Kline said, her voice shaking.

During the next Texas legislative session, lawmakers — dealing with a possible budget deficit of $25 billion — will consider deep cuts to UT and every other state agency. In May, state leadership asked each agency to plan for 10-percent budget reductions. For UT, this could mean as many as 600 jobs if the legislature cuts 10 percent of the University’s state funding.

But one Staff Council ad hoc committee is working at full speed to see their job security policy recommendations reach President William Powers Jr. by February, so he can be armed going into the legislative session on behalf of UT.

Erika Frahm, chair of Staff Council’s job security ad hoc committee and a senior administrative associate, said specific policies aren’t formulated yet, but the committee is targeting those surrounding layoffs around campus, merit-based raises and mandated performance evaluations. As the economy turns around, the high-performing employees will be able to leave UT and enter the market, so the doling out of merit-based raises has caused anxiety among staff, Frahm said.

“How is it determined, how is it regulated, is it fair, is it public?” Frahm said. “We are operating from the standpoint that communication helps alleviate some of that anxiety because a lot of that anxiety is based on the lack of actual information.”

Frahm said there are answers to staff members’ questions, but the University needs to disseminate those answers in a clear way.

“It’s dealing with that environmental stress that has been ongoing and will continue to ramp up, and that’s where you’ll see the exit of people as the economy turns around,” Frahm said.

Phillip Hebert, recording secretary for Staff Council and an administrative associate at the Charles A. Dana Center for Science and Mathematics Education, said he couldn’t speak for the council, but from what he has been hearing in his district, he would like hear some plain talk from the administration to the staff so they can be more informed.

“One thing that I would love to see is Tower Talk be used as a way to communicate to staff in a more common sense terminology to help us get the inside view on what’s going on,” Hebert said. “This affects us more than anyone else, and Tower Talk has become nothing more than a repeat of the same information we see everywhere else.”

UT spokesman Don Hale said Powers has tried to keep staff members informed as budget cuts take effect, but the decisions are made at the department level, making it difficult to explain every decision.

“The President’s not making the call on what those decisions are, so part of it is that each unit is making decisions on its own budget,” Hale said. “That doesn’t make it easy, but I understand the concerns about people’s jobs. I know Powers wants to make sure people are informed as best as we can do it.”

UT’s Human Resources Services has seen an increase in the number of staff members who come in for services related to fatigue, stress and anxiety.

Julien Carter, associate vice president for human resources, said most employees have such a connection to UT that they will plow through the pain and uncertainty. Carter said one director shared that many people expressed anxiety about the future.

“There is a lot of tension, uncertainty and fatigue because we’ve been dealing with this [economy] for a number of years,” he said.

Joe Gregory, vice chair of Staff Council, said in this economy, people are glad to have jobs.

“People are scared right now. I hope the administration is looking diligently into ways of keeping staff,” Gregory said. “Morale is shaky, but everyone is hoping and praying that things get better.”