Missing staff on search committee addressed

Missing staff on search committee addressed

On Tuesday, July 21 UVA announced the formation of a special committee of the Board of Visitors (BOV). Its duty? To search for a new president. The Special Committee on the Nomination of a President will recommend, to the entire Board, a person to become the eighth president of the University.

In early June, current President John Casteen announced that he will step down on August 1, 2010, after 20 years at the helm of UVA.

Current UVA President John Casteen recently announced he will step down as president on August 1, 2010. Casteen is one of the longest-serving presidents in the nation and the search for his successor will begin next month.

Nine members of the BOV, six faculty members, two students—the undergraduate president of the Student Council and a Ph.D. candidate—and two former rectors make up the committee. No UVA staff representative is included.

“By having a staff member on the search committee,” says Brad Sayler, former member of the Staff Union at UVA (SUUVA) and computer support for the Civil Engineering department, “We can make the point that if we can get a president here that is sympathetic to the need of staff, we can energize the staff … to become partners in the University and their drive towards growth and success.”

For Susan Fraiman, an English professor who served on the advisory board of SUUVA, the absence of staff members on the committee is not a surprise.

“Classified staff comprise a huge and valuable portion of the University community,” she says. “That staff are unrepresented on this kind of search committee is dismaying but, given a history of brushing off staff concerns, hardly surprising.”

In a statement, UVA says that not all University groups are represented on the committee, but those chosen act as “representatives of the entire University community, including faculty, students and staff. The rector expects the committee members to seek and hear the views of all constituents. To this end, several public forums will be held at which all staff (as well as faculty and students) are invited to express their opinions to the search committee on issues and the characteristics they believe a new president should have.”

Open forums will be held on August 25 and September 1, but time and location have yet to be announced. All staff and faculty, however, have the opportunity to give “direct input to the process through a website that is being established to receive their comments and questions,” says UVA.

“My intention is to ask to put an additional member on that search team, and that member would be a member of the staff here at UVA,” says Sayler.

However, without SUUVA, which was disbanded last December due to inadequate membership numbers, Sayler says it will be difficult to bring staff concerns to the right ears. “If we had a powerful staff union, and I use that term ‘powerful’ on purpose, that has adequate numbers, that would command the respect of the president and the administration of the University, then, yes, issues like this would be much easier to bring forward.”

Yet, one bigger question remains.

Unlike other state schools, both UVA’s staff members and faculty are not represented on the BOV. Virginia Tech has one faculty representative and one staff representative on its BOV and William & Mary has two faculty members and one staff liaison serving on its board. For Sayler, the most successful way to get staff concerns to the BOV is by having a staff member on the BOV.

Fraiman agrees. “Especially in this economic climate, and given the recent demise of SUUVA, staff members desperately need a voice.  One would hope that a new president would encourage staff to play an active role in shaping policies affecting them. Clearly the first step toward this goal would be to have a staff member on the search committee.”

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