Crossing paths

MU’s Staff Advisory Council works for employees across university departments.
Friday, December 10, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:22 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

With almost 8,000 members in its ranks, MU’s staff is involved in every aspect of university life — including serving as admission representatives, assigning students to residence halls, raising money, and planting the flowers that brighten the campus landscape.

With a diverse workforce and so many different jobs, it’s not always easy to find a common voice. But a little-known campus organization, the Staff Advisory Council, is working to unite MU’s staff and create the best possible working environment.

The council was established in 1978 to serve as a liaison between the university’s staff and the chancellor. The 16-member group is elected from administrative, service and support departments to serve three-year terms.

It hosts guest speakers and staff discussions every two weeks and meets with the chancellor biannually to address any concerns or suggestions.

Suzanne Lippard, a library information specialist, has served on the council for eight years. She says she sees the benefits of her position as twofold: forging new relationships and improving the university.

“I’ve made good friends outside my area,” she said. “I’m interested in the bigger picture and trying to create a working environment that’s as good and engaging as possible for staff here.”

David Roloff, an MU alumnus, is a newcomer to the council. He has worked in the Reynolds Alumni Center as director of membership and marketing for three years, but he’s had jobs all over campus — working for campus dining, serving as publication adviser for the MU yearbook and being marketing manager for the University Bookstore.

“Getting to work with and meet other faculty and staff made me feel more connected,” Roloff said.

As a new member of the council, he wants to ensure that staff members are recognized for their hard work.

“There’s not as much awareness of the many, many staff members that work on campus and their contributions,” he said. “You don’t realize how many talented people work at MU.”

Alan Marshall, vice-chairman of the council and manager of information technology in the division of biological sciences, said staff members aren’t recognized nearly enough for their achievements, both on and off campus.

To increase awareness, the council sponsors a Staff Development Award and a Staff Advisory Council Education Award. The honors provide funding for conferences, workshops and higher education courses. The council also observes a Staff Recognition Week.

Former council chairwoman Gail Lawrence served for six years before stepping down from her position a few months ago.

“We are the hub that keeps the university going,” Lawrence said. “We come together to work for the benefit of the university.”

Along with raising awareness, the council fights for specific university-wide policies. One of them is the “85 and out” benefit, which would allow staff members to retire with no penalty when their age and the number of years they’ve worked at MU add up to 85.

“We’ll push until that comes around,” Marshall said.

“Eighty and out would be better,” Lippard said, “but we’ll take 85.”

Wages and raises are another top priority. Lawrence said the university has no mechanism to reward employees for their longtime loyalty to the university. Marshall said the staff has brought up the issue of raises, hoping wages will keep up with the increasing inflation rate.

“It’s tough when the state is cutting the budget like they have,” he said.

Marshall said council members are the direct link between MU’s staff and administration. They work mostly as mediators, bringing staff concerns to the administration and conveying administrative decisions to the staff.

“We always keep our noses and ears to the grindstone to find out what’s going on and what are the issues,” Lawrence said.

Kristi Miller, director of the A Way with Words and Numbers program, said she’s noticed the council’s efforts most when it comes to changes in policy.

“When changes are made, I always assume they’re a part of that,” she said.

One change she and other staff members discussed is combining extra vacation days into a public pool that others could draw from. Miller said employees would rather have co-workers use their extra vacation and sick days than let the days go to waste.

Bradley Finnegan, an MU admissions representative, keeps up with the council’s activities by reading the group’s meeting minutes. “They seem to do a good job selecting issues that affect many staff members and working to alleviate any concerns,” Finnegan said.

Council members say they share the goal of creating a better workplace for MU staff, and they encourage other employees to join them.

“I think every staff member should take the opportunity to serve on the staff council,” Lawrence said.

Although council members work hard to improve the university, they say they enjoy every minute of it.

“I want what’s best for the campus and staff,” said Lippard. “It’s been a very rewarding experience for me.”

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