Brent Fryrear began his fourth and final term as chair of staff senate this July. Fryrear, director of the Partnership for a Green City, has worked at UofL for 10 years and has been a senator for nine years. He recently spoke to UofL Today about staff senate’s accomplishments and its goals for the upcoming year.

UofL Today: What made you initially wanted to get involved?

Fryrear: When I started, Staff Senate didn’t have as high of a profile as we have worked toward over the years. I didn’t even know we had a Staff Senate. Jim Rose, a coworker in the DEHS environmental protection services center on campus told me, As well as you do your job, you really ought to think about going on Staff Senate. You could be chair one day. It’s funny now. He introduced me to it. He had been a senator and knew people all over UofL. I thought I should get involved and see, learning how the Staff Senate reviews all of the policy changes and makes recommendations, how we take part in the administrative interviews, and how we are the voice of staff when the voice of the staff is to be heard. It is a unique experience to participate in from the ground up. I appreciated Jim’s confidence and his push to become involved.

UofL Today: How long have you been chair?

Fryrear: This is my fourth term. My second year on Staff Senate, I became a committee chair. The third year, I was the secretary/treasurer and I served two terms. I spent one term as vice chair. Now, this is my fourth (and final) term as chair.

UofL Today: Why did you want to continue to a fourth term?

Fryrear: My intention was to stop after last year – serve three years and go. However, the budget situation has been such a difficulty that I did not feel comfortable turning that over at this point. Having served on the budget advisory committees, the high-level knowledge and background, I wanted to provide continuity. We know that there’s another budget cut with the next budget so, I stuck out one more year. When I told the senate, I don’t know that anyone was surprised. I think a number were pleased. But we did end up having a close election.

I believe four terms will be enough for them, as well as for me. Plus, I believe as an elected leader, there’s only so far you can take an organization. At some point, you have to step back and let someone else lead. I look forward to the leadership that follows me, as well.

UofL Today: What are some of the accomplishments?

Fryrear: Off the top of my head, one of the biggest ones was recommending Sam Connally as vice president for human resources. That’s really another reason I wanted to stick around for a fourth term. My entire term as chair had been with interim human resources leadership. Interim leadership can be good, but they don’t necessarily step out and take any risks or do anything that’s going to rock the boat. So, we’ve been kind of reticent about getting anything done because nothing was coming from HR and there was nothing we were really doing to push HR because of the interim leadership. We’ve made more strides and success with Sam here than we have in the last three years.

One of the other big successes was when the president and provost asked that in lieu of raises last year, what are other things the administration can do for morale. Staff Senate made the suggestion about extra days off. We had heard from staff — in lieu of raises, time off to spend with your family may be the next best thing. We asked, What about making the day before Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve holidays this year? We didn’t expect to see that every year, but lacking raises last year, it was extremely nice to get those two extra days off. I don’t believe many people realize Staff Senate made that suggestion. A longer listing of the senate’s accomplishments is on SharePoint.

UofL Today: What are you going to work on this year?

Fryrear: We’re working on several human resources policies — one is the performance management/evaluation system. It’s been one of Pandora’s boxes that everyone’s talks about. The senate has shifted in some sense from wanting total across-the-board raises for people to looking at a merit-based approach as well as cost-of-living increases. We’ve gotten the salary administration policies updated. We’re working with Human Resources on the performance evaluation policy. I want us to review the reduction-in-force policy to make sure that we’re in good shape. We have reductions in force happening anyway, but they tend to be small. Sometimes it’s because researchers leave. We also have reorganizations in departments, but we need to monitor the policy to ensure that people who are good UofL employees and have been here for years have the opportunity to get back in a job if there they’re out on RIF status.

The grievance policy is another priority and we are already working on that. The staff grievance committee is working with Mr. Connally to revise the grievance policy. They’re looking at a comprehensive revision that would include the appeals policy and collapse other policies together that make sense. 

On the operations side, we’re going to continue looking at sustainability. We have a number of senators who have a green agenda. We plan to get a group together that will make suggestions on things that we’re not doing or things that we can do better and get those ideas to Mr. (Larry) Owsley (vice president for business affairs). We are also working on campus culture and safety issues.

Additionally, we’ve been working on an issue at the Health Sciences Center that has a lot of people concerned. Lower paid staff on that campus don’t have affordable green parking available. It’s hard when you make $20,000 to $30,000 a year to think about putting $300 to $500 out for a parking permit. So if we can find something more affordable, that would be helpful to a lot of people.

We’re also trying to monitor morale. We have a brand new committee structure on the senate, and one of our new committees is Assistance, Morale and Outreach. We have had the Staff Help and Relief Effort (SHARE) program that Tammy Lawson has chaired for a number of years. SHARE has helped a number of employees who are out of pay status with an award of up to a specified dollar amount once a year to assist with qualified bills. We also have done outreach through SHARE where we’ve collected school supplies for Atkinson Elementary School, and we’re looking forward to doing that again. We want to connect with the community and the schools, and we want to do things around the university that can help morale a little bit.

UofL Today: How do you explain to new employees or other employees who aren’t aware why Staff Senate is significant?

Fryrear: I get an opportunity to do this on a regular basis at new employee orientation. Justin Mog and I tag team every other week presenting on sustainability at UofL. While I’m there, I take the time to tell the new employees about Staff Senate and shared governance. I tell them if you have never worked in a university setting, universities operate on a different governance model than what you see in business. In private businesses, you’re told what to do and that’s it. At universities, there is shared governance, where you have faculty, staff and students, and the administration is interested in hearing what we have to say on policies, hirings and other matters. The administration seeks our advice and we want to be heard, so we provide input. That is how they consider and make their decisions. I know there are some decisions that are made without our input, that’s the nature of decisions. However, in the big decisions, we need a voice and we’ve got it.