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Staff Senate to serve as sounding board, advocacy group for UNL employees

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A new governance body within the University of Nebraska-Lincoln will be seated in early 2023 after its inaugural elections wrap up this week.

The Staff Senate would be responsible for representing and advocating on behalf of the more than 4,000 employees at UNL that work in non-faculty positions across campus.

Those include everything from administrative assistants in college offices, housing and dining staff, landscape services employees and more.

The new senate — elections conclude Tuesday — will also serve as a companion organization to the Faculty Senate, which represents tenured and non-tenured instructors, and the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska, the student body.

The idea of a representative body for staff members at UNL has been rolling around for years, according to Honors Program coordinator Joann Ross, who has been coordinating the Staff Senate as it prepares to convene in January.

In 2017, two groups, the University Association of Administrative Development and the University of Nebraska Office Professional Association, began examining what a body representing staff could look like, but the idea didn’t go much further than that.

A few years later, in the fall of 2020, the idea of a Staff Senate was revived once again by an advisory group to Chancellor Ronnie Green, and in partnership with both staff development groups, an exploratory committee was formed.

Ross said the proposal gained further traction at an all-staff conference in May 2021 that allowed staff members to ask questions and give feedback of what they hoped such a governance structure could accomplish.

The Staff Senate’s inclusion in the N2025 strategic plan for the university — UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green called it a priority "to give staff a voice on campus and provide a clear path for bringing issues that concern staff to the attention of campus leaders — also reinforced the momentum that was building toward forming the organization, Ross added.

“The timing was right and people were interested in seeing it come about,” Ross said.

Several subcommittees then began fleshing out the role the Staff Senate would play on campus, what it would look like, and how it would operate.

Ross said the exploratory committee looked to other campuses, particularly those within the Big Ten Conference, to see what could be borrowed or replicated to work within UNL and the university system’s existing framework.

Some schools have a single governance body that includes faculty, students and staff, and others have multiple bodies. UNL ultimately determined it wanted to create “a representative body that will serve as the voice of all staff,” according to Ross.

UNL's Staff Senate will have 60 members, 53 of whom will vote on various measures, from seven "districts" defined under the university's organization, including Business and Finance, Chancellor, Student Affairs, Research and others.

Understanding the goal of the body was also important to drafting the bylaws under which it will operate, said Terry Haverkost, who manages grant proposals in the UNL Department of Chemistry, and led the effort to create the senate’s rules.

The exploratory committee found some staff senate bodies are more focused on drawing attention to the achievements of employees, he said, while others are a conduit to ensure staff members are appointed to university-wide committees and commissions.

UNL’s Staff Senate will draw from both of those structures as it seeks to be both a sounding board and an advocacy group, Haverkost said.

“The primary purpose is to act as an advisory body to the chancellor’s office,” he said. “But we also want to be an ear for staff members if there are issues they want to bring up with campus life that can be improved, so they have a mechanism available to do that.”

When the results from the election are finalized — there were 150 nominations for 60 seats — both Haverkost and Ross said the Staff Senate will be ready to start its work.

Haverkost said he believes staff members will find value in the community-building aspects of the Staff Senate.

“Some people out there want to see some substantial changes, but a lot of people just want that sense of community,” he said. “They want to participate in an organization that’s meant to build up staff in the same way as the organizations for faculty and students.”

Ross said the exploratory group has received support from administration as well as the Faculty Senate.

“They were encouraging the idea of staff having a voice, staff being represented particularly on decision-making that directly impacted their roles on campus,” she said. “This is a body that will be able to deliver on that.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS

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