Erika Frahm

The University announced Thursday that Lynda.com will be available to students and faculty.

University officials announced in a University-wide email the online video tutorial site Lynda.com is now available to all students and faculty at no cost. 

According to Lynda.com, the site provides more than 115,000 tutorials and more than 2,400 expert-led courses on topics ranging from leadership skills to
video editing. 

Erika Frahm, a senior program coordinator for Human Resources, said the University originally implemented a trial run of the Lynda.com services for staff member training. After a successful pilot program, Frahm said the Staff Council worked with Human Resources and the Office of the President to make Lynda.com accessible to students and faculty.

“This tool can help students in any major explore new topics, get immediate answers about a technology question simply by searching for their question, write a résumé, and learn presentation, time management and research skills,” Frahm said in an email.

Before making the announcement Thursday, the University agreed on a contract with Lynda.com to pay $435,600, or $2.20 per student per year, for the next three years of service, said Frahm. A basic membership to Lynda.com costs $25 a month, according to the website.

Radio-television-film lecturer Benjamin Bays said he plans to use Lynda.com tutorial videos as coursework for his classes on visual effects and motion in video, rather than standard textbooks.

“In the past, when I’ve tried to use a textbook, it gets outdated really quickly,” Bays said. 

Bays said Lynda.com can help students who may need more time to learn software programs.

“What Lynda offers is a better option for them because you can slow it down and rewind it — some of things you can’t do in a classroom,” Bays said. 

Jessica Diaz-Hurtado, a Latin American studies graduate student, said she hopes to use video editing tutorials available at Lynda.com for her thesis. 

Although she does not have a background in video production, she said she hopes the video tutorials will help her produce a short documentary.

“I don’t have the skills, but I have the ideas,” Diaz-Hurtado said. “These programs hopefully can help me communicate my ideas through video.”

Bays said Lynda.com can help all students who are presenting their work online.

“It is a digital world,” Bays said. “Regardless of whether you’re producing digital content or you’re producing something completely different, we still present ourselves online in a variety of different ways.”

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". 

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.”