Staff Senate met virtually on June 9 and they were joined by Interim Associate Vice President for Human Resources Mary Elizabeth Miles and President Neeli Bendapudi.

Miles spoke about the university’s efforts to file mass unemployment claims on behalf of employees for the first time in UofL’s history.

“We’ve never done it before and we’ve learned very quickly the ins and outs, in very interesting times,” she said. 

She explained that the state’s unemployment office has been inundated with requests and has struggled with an internal change of leadership and outdated filing systems.

“Apparently the individual process has been even more challenging. More systems have been just completely shut down where people have no way to get in. And the wait times, although they are long all over the place, are even worse,” Miles said. “So I just want you all to know that despite the frustration we have with the mass e-filing process, it’s still in the best interest of our university community and we’re glad that we did it.”

The Human Resources office has been writing daily to the state’s unemployment office on behalf of employees. HR staff have taken measures to stay in close contact with employees, including university text messages and personal phone calls, to ensure time-sensitive actions are completed. They also created a new webpage dedicated to all the questions that employees have brought forward during the process.

HR staff ensure every unemployment question submitted to their office gets answered or addressed on the same day. They have worked closer than usual with Staff Senate Chair John Smith and the SHARE committee to ensure employees having a difficult time with the unemployment process receive help.

Senators asked several clarifying questions and inquired about the options for continuing to work remotely when campus operations resume in the fall.

“We are looking at it, we recognize there are lots of people out there who need to possibly have some sort of modifications or need to be able to do things a little bit differently than we did before. And we also need to understand that the university, there’s going to be some things that it needs and we are going to try to balance that.”

President Bendapudi reported on the outcomes of her meeting with the Black Student Union, which can be found here, and she discussed why the university strongly supports the Black Lives Matter movement.

“When we say ‘Black Lives Matter’ what that means is not at all saying other people are unimportant,” she said. “When people say systemic racism, it doesn’t mean you are racist, or I am racist. It says there is something wrong with the system where over time this is happening, and we need to look at what are those barriers and how do we overcome that.”

Bendapudi emphasized that the university’s mission is part of the solution.

“There’s many ways I believe in higher education. I truly believe that higher education has the promise of transforming people’s lives. I would not be here if it weren’t for education. So we have to be true to our mission. I will always come back to ‘let’s educate, let’s do better education, better work, so that we make our local police better and the best practices make everybody better,’” she said.

Staff Senate Chair John Smith reported that the Senate body should put forth a statement of support for the Black Lives Matter movement, but that it should have input. Smith hopes for it to be more than words of support.

“We’d like to have a two-week window for [senators] to send us ideas for … changes that we can advocate for from our platform as the Senate as a whole. We would really like the Senate to be an action group in this arena,” he said. 

Smith briefly shared budget updates from the June Board of Trustees meeting. Based on three different scenarios—all in-person classes, hybrid classes, or all online classes— the university is planning for three various levels of impact to the FY 2021 budget.

“The enrollment and state revenue are the two wild cards that we just don’t know, that are going to drive a lot of which one of these three scenarios we fall in,” he said.

Senators expressed concern about furloughs potentially getting extended. Senators requested that data be made available on how many furloughs have been issued thus far and a campus breakdown of where those furloughs took place. Smith confirmed that he will present those concerns in his next meeting with the president. A formal update on the university’s financial situation is also forthcoming.

Chief Operating Officer Mark Watkins confirmed that $27,995.57 thus far has been reimbursed to remote-working employees who requested refunds. Additionally, $36,293.98 worth of parking fee deductions have stopped for all furloughed employees for the duration of their furlough.

Senator Angela Lewis-Klein reported that the Executive Committee of the Staff Senate recommends the 2020 Senate year be considered a “grace year” due to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the operations of the Staff Senate. They also recommended the tabling of Senate seat elections, including the officers, until the 2021 Senate year. All recommendations passed.

Committee reports and a full video recording of the virtual meeting can be found on the Staff Senate meetings webpage.

The next Staff Senate meeting will be held July 14 via Microsoft Teams.