Now that chartered restructuring at UVA is a done deal, the school is free to implement independent human resources (HR) systems for its workers. Susan Carkeek, hired for the task as HR director, arrived on campus six weeks ago to architect that new system—amid heated debate.
Susan Carkeek, UVA’s new human resources director, says of creating a new HR system: It’s an "exciting professional opportunity to provide a blank slate to build something from the ground up."
Carkeek walks into a controversy stemming from the anxiety of the UVA Staff Union (www.suuva.org) and other employees about “charter,” which some fear would allow the University to cut costs by lowering benefits and salaries. Under restructuring, UVA employees hired after July 1, 2006 get rolled into a new HR system while older employees get to choose if they want to make the switch.
As to what the new system will be like, or who gets to make those crucial decisions, Carkeek says she’s not yet sure—she’s been gathering input from vice presidents, deans and various employee groups. Carkeek, former VP of human resources at the University of New Mexico, confirmed that there will be a dual HR system, with no plans to transition the older employees over to the new system.
“That’s what they said when the hospital decentralized too,” says Jan Cornell, president of the UVA Staff Union, “and eventually everybody was gravitated over to the new system,” resulting in fewer benefits, she contends. Cornell, a longtime critic of restructuring, says running two systems could be fundamentally unfair. “Unions traditionally have always been against a two-tier workforce,” Cornell says. “[We] feel that every employee should be the same.”
UVA has hired consultants from the Segal Company to conduct interviews with staff members and develop an employee survey that will be given to all workers in early 2007 to submit anonymously. Independent consultants will analyze that data, Carkeek says. Her office hopes to discover what employees look for in their HR system. Carkeek says she has read up on the tumult surrounding restructuring at UVA and that she understands the issue of people’s livelihoods can be “very personal and very emotional.”
UVA Chief Financial Officer Yoke San Reynolds said December 21 that the new HR system is a “long term” project that will take shape over the next two years.
Until then, UVA employees say they remain in the dark about the changes to come. Cornell says, “It’s very difficult for us to come out against something that we haven’t seen yet."