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 were doing is saying we are going to limit the freedom of the person who wants to smoke for the benefit of the people who dont 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. SGs 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 cant 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 dont 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 its the wrong time to focus energy and resources on something as insignificant as smoking while youre 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 states 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 cant say that, Powers said.
UT staff will soon have similar conflict resolution resources as faculty and students. Interviews for a new staff ombudsperson position began Thursday. UT Staff Council recommended that President William Powers Jr., create the position in a May 2009 report created by the councils committee on grievance procedures. Interviews for the position began Thursday. Staff currently file grievances through the Conflict Management and Dispute Resolution Office in human resources. The committee found the existing grievance procedures too formal and too affiliated with a University office to handle every type of conflict. Council chair Ben Bond said individuals in the council have wanted the president to create the position since about 2002. He said the council sent requests to the president in the past, and he has been supportive of the new position. He was just waiting for a report that made sense, Bond said. Im very happy they responded to this report so now we can move on to other staff issues. The University has employed a student ombudsperson since 1969 and a faculty ombudsperson since 2004. An ombudsperson provides a safe place to have off-the-record conversations related to any kind of problem related to life at the University, said faculty ombudsperson Mary Steinhardt. Steinhardt, who is also a professor of kinesiology and health education, said if she thought her role as a professor interferes with her ability to remain neutral, she would call on the retired faculty ombudsperson to help. In addition to neutrality, both UT ombudspersons adhere to three other basic principles set out by the International Ombudsman Association: informality, confidentiality and independence. Lauren Bloom, social work graduate student and student ombudsperson, said adhering to these principles means never taking sides or advocating for any individual or group. Rather, she said she guides people to the proper resources, explains applicable University policies and mediates between willing parties. She said she also helps identify systemic problems with dated or ineffective policies for administrators and leadership groups, including Student Government and the Graduate Student Assembly. Unlike the existing part-time positions for faculty and students, the new staff ombudsperson will work full-time in that role. Charles Roeckle, deputy to the president, said Powers wanted to show support to staff despite the nearly $100-million cut to the 2012-13 budget. The staff council report estimated salaries for the full-time ombudsperson and full-time administrative assistant to total $125,000. The office will receive $2,700 annually for travel to conferences and workshops. The Office of the President will fund the staff ombudsperson office. Because of budget shortfalls, the University has cut close to 200 staff positions to date. Roeckle said beginning Thursday each of the five remaining candidates will interview with three groups of University employees, including administrators, faculty members and representatives from Staff Council. Its intended to be a very inclusive interview process over the next four weeks or so, Roeckle said.