Emory's strengths, employee benefit questions discussed at Town Hall

By Kimber Williams | Emory Report | April 17, 2014

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(From left) Executive Vice President for Health Affairs S. Wright Caughman, Executive Vice President for Business and Administration Mike Mandl, Provost Claire Sterk, and President James Wagner answer questions at the Employee Town Hall on April 16.

Discussions about what Emory does well, updates on campus initiatives, and questions about an assortment of employee rights and benefits highlighted the Employee Council's annual Town Hall on April 16.

Presented in an open forum that allowed for audience inquiry as well as anonymous questions collected through the Employee Council's website, the format brings together University staff and top administrative leadership each year to discuss campus issues.

Hosted by Emory's Employee Council, the annual gathering prompted dialogue on a range of workplace and work-life issues, from questions surrounding maternity leave and how to handle supervisor feedback to Emory's vision for online education and the its response to a record number of student applications.

Panelists included President James Wagner, Provost Claire Sterk, Executive Vice President for Health Affairs S. Wright Caughman, and Executive Vice President for Business and Administration Mike Mandl.

Theresa Milazzo, associate vice president of human resources, and Wanda Hayes, senior director of learning and organizational development, also fielded questions.

The forum opened with a progress report from the University Senate Committee on Class and Labor Implementation in addressing recommendations from the first phase of Emory's Committee on Class and Labor on the role of class and status in the University's non-academic workforce; subsequent phases will examine faculty and students.

The Class and Labor Committee was created by Wagner in 2011 in response to student concerns raised about campus labor — particularly Sodexo contracted workers — in spring 2010.

To date, the implementation committee has resolved 29 out of 66 recommendations, said Eric Bymaster, assistant vice president of finance and operations for Campus Life who chairs the Class and Labor Implementation Committee.

Highlights include:

  • Life insurance benefits increased to an employee's annual base salary, with a minimum of $10,000 to a maximum of $50,000 for active employees.
  • New employee adoption reimbursement benefit up to $5,000 per adoption.
  • Recommendation that Emory increase its minimum wage for staff — and expectations of it for contract workers —to $11.88 an hour, pending board approval
  • A more transparent process and checklist for selecting contractors on campus, including regular evaluations, business standards aligned with Emory's values and ethics, creation of a central entity to advise, and opportunities for campus feedback.
  • Conversations with Human Resources about offering new supervisor training, Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) training, and anti-harassment training.

Diversity Council

In other campus updates, Dona Yarbrough, associate vice-provost for community and diversity and Center for Women director, previewed the Advisory Council on Community and Diversity's (ACCD) annual report, which will be completed for presentation before the University Senate in fall 2014.

Guided by the Office of Community and Diversity, the ACCD was launched fall 2012 to help coordinate diversity self-assessments throughout Emory's schools and units toward achieving goals of access, equity and inclusion.

That process marked the first time many units had conducted a comprehensive needs assessment specifically focused on community and diversity, she said.

Yarbrough shared institution-wide recommendations that have emerged:

  • Improve data collection related to diversity
  • Increase employee diversity, especially at tenure, tenure-track faculty and executive management levels
  • Centralize diversity training
  • Increase the roles of the president and the provost in establishing community and diversity goals and expectations and discussing ways to accomplish them.

Following campus updates, Wagner invited employees to answer a question that he's posed to several campus groups: "What is good about Emory that we should make better — in short, why do you work here?"

After listening to employee insights, Wagner summarized key themes, which included:

  • The impulse for goodwill drawing us toward something better
  • The people who can inspire us, make a difference
  • Emory's commitment to sustainability and to women's rights, privileges and safety
  • Emory as a place where voices can be heard
  • Opportunities through courtesy scholarships
  • A  place where there is time for relationships among colleagues, but also for quality of family life and work life
  • Physical health and wellness as an important component
  • The research, the service and the connection to the external community that make a difference

The last portion of the meeting was devoted to a public question-answer session.

Here are some of the highlights:

New performance evaluations offer no opportunity for employee feedback on supervisors. Is it too late to add that?

Milazzo: "The performance management system is going to be used this year for evaluations; it probably is too late to add anything for this year. The way that supervisor feedback is normally done is through a 360 review, which is a pretty labor intensive process. … it's something the Class and Labor Committee also is looking at."

Hayes: "By next year we'll look at a way to incorporate other feedback."

Why doesn't Emory have paid maternity leave?

Milazzo: "That is something we do look at from time to time; we know it is an important benefit and a very expensive benefit. You sort of put it into the equation of all the other benefits we are able to provide. We know that it's an important thing. We bring it regularly to our executive advisors to look at. I will expect that it will come up again." (HR is also examining rules around short-term disability coverage and may offer a different type of policy by the next open enrollment, she added.)

Why can't University employees share sick leave/vacation leave?

Milazzo: "Donations are run on a departmental level … The unit works with Employee Relations. We have a set of guidelines around that. We can set up a donation bank within the unit, it's very structured … we've done it several times."

What can be done about supervisors who undermine employees?

Mandl: "There's a very deliberate effort to reduce that variability through systematic programs. HR (Human Resources) has implemented new programs for training supervisors and managers … That's the direction we should go, but that's not enough … We all have to be evaluating the environment we create for employees."

Milazzo: "Employee Relations is an avenue for people who have issues with their supervisor; and it is confidential."

With growing applications from students, will Emory increase available spots?

Wagner: "There are not immediate plans to grow Emory's size. Actually, nationally the number of applications to universities is falling … What is reassuring for Emory is that even as across the country there are fewer college applications, Emory remains high on people's lists … With the kind of facility we have, the kind of faculty we have, the kind of 'touch' that we have, trying to keep our classes relatively small so we can have this nurturing environment, trying to maximize the number of students who live on our campus — all of those things say we're probably about the right size."

What's Emory's plan for online education?

Sterk: "Just like we are very thoughtful of the right size … we also are quite thoughtful about how can we use technology … There was quite a hype about a year ago (around MOOCs, massive open online courses) to say that you couldn't be a good university if you didn't participate in this. Emory is saying we want to have those experiences, we want to be part of that, but we also want to shape it and make sure that it fits our values. So we offer (a number of) Coursera courses. What's nice about that is we actually get to decide which faculty members teach those courses … it's a way to get Emory to be known to the rest of the world."

"We also have an initiative which we have participated in for almost two years called Semester Online, it takes place in the College [Emory College of Arts and Sciences]. That's a for-credit initiative. It means we're part of a consortium and students can take classes online through the consortium or those from the consortium schools can take those at Emory. It's been a wonderful experience … we have learned lessons we could not have learned without being part of the consortium. We also have come to an understanding with the consortium schools and with the actual vendor who provide the technology that is not something we want to continue to explore."