By the students, for the students of Central Washington University

The Observer

By the students, for the students of Central Washington University

The Observer

By the students, for the students of Central Washington University

The Observer

Ringing the alarm bells on staff exploitation

Between three and seven CWU staff employees out of 10 feel overworked, undervalued and exploited, according to a survey by the Public School Employees of Washington (PSE) that Raymond Wells, the president of CWU’s PSE,  shared with President Jim Wohlpart on the afternoon of May 9. PSE’s findings call out the low staff morale on campus. In his letter to Wohlpart summarizing the results, Wells explained that the survey was prompted by a letter sent to the provost by Chris Schedler and Pam McMullin-Messier, co-chairs of the Academic Department Chairs Organization (ADCO) regarding the workload of department secretaries and department chairs on April 25.

The letter from Schedler and McMullin-Messier outlines the workload that has been pushed off onto department chairs and secretaries due to vacant positions within their departments. “[T]he added workload, lack of institutional support, and low salary for these positions make it difficult to fill vacancies,” the letter said. “Multiple departments have been working with temporary employees or empty positions, forcing the department chair to assume many of the secretary duties.”

The shared concerns among department chairs and secretaries included taking on the added workloads for vacant positions while receiving no extra compensation, having more responsibilities than can be reasonably expected and having employees in other positions try to assign them more work outside of their actual duties.

“CWU seeks to provide a fair and equitable work environment for all faculty and staff, and we are always looking for ways to improve as an institution,” Provost Patrick Pease said when asked for comment. “With regard to the concerns raised by ADCO, all staff members have a position description, which outlines the duties and responsibilities of their position. These documents are reviewed and updated annually to ensure they stay up to date. During the annual review process, department chairs and support staff perform that work, with support from Human Resources, if necessary. This review process helps us identify shifts in work responsibilities and allows us to ensure that positions and employees are correctly classified.”

The follow-up letter from Wells seeks to address a wider issue among university staff. According to Wells, a recent survey of all PSE members had some telling results. The survey results detailed that 70% of staff think their position is under-classified, almost 40% are concerned about being illegally targeted for discipline and over 35% say they have received insufficient safety and health training. Half of the responses reported insufficient time for professional development and almost 45% say they can’t afford registration or travel costs for trainings (expenses their departments should be paying). A third of the responses report that they have not been offered the training necessary to perform their jobs. “PSE represents 128 CWU employees, as of the most recent list I’ve downloaded, not all of whom are members,” Wells said.

Short answer questions on the survey also produced what Wells called telling responses, such as one employee who said, “I fear staff positions are not seen as important and are cost savings / easy pickings. We tend to have one person in a pivotal role and then that position is removed yet someone has to take up the slack. There are only so many hours in a day.” Another saying “[I] [a]ssume [the] university will soon try to balance the budget on classified staff’s back while continuing to hire administrators.”

CWU touts statistics from the annual state engagement survey and uses them to highlight successes. However, Wells points out that the connotations of these statistics may not be as positive as they are presented. “77% of respondents felt their immediate supervisor treated them with respect,” the survey showed. This would suggest that nearly a quarter of respondents feel as though their supervisor has disrespected them. 

Survey findings also suggest that “69% of respondents felt their immediate supervisor created an environment of openness and trust.” This would mean that close to a third feel their workplace doesn’t foster these qualities. “68% of respondents felt CWU demonstrated commitment to pro-equity and anti-racism (through policies, practices, and actions).” That means that 32% don’t.

A majority of respondents felt positively about their supervisor. “About 66% of respondents agreed that their immediate supervisor was a good leader.” However, the remaining third felt differently in regard to leadership capabilities. 

Wells also brought up the issues that secretarial staff were having. “Speaking specifically of the secretaries of academic departments, the recent failures of the Executive Leadership Team to recognize secretaries’ roles to departments’ function with the delay in approving the Art + Design secretary search or to approve individual secretaries for World Languages and Cultures and Philosophy and Religious Studies has left many of our members disgusted and disheartened,” he said. “These failures demonstrate that the Executive Leadership Team is unaware of the roles secretaries perform in the academic departments at Central or the huge number of duties that have been thrust upon them. One member described this situation to me as treating secretaries (and our members more generally) as interchangeable cogs instead of as people who contribute to the function and learning environment of the university. The idea of one secretary serving two departments has already been tried in the College of Business, leading to the burn-out and departure of the then-incumbent.”

Wells stated that these issues are only made worse by other staff trying to add additional work to the secretaries’ plates, while seemingly having no idea what their actual roles and responsibilities are. More and more responsibilities are being pushed off to department secretaries.

“For at least fifteen of my seventeen years at Central, the university’s motto has not been, ‘by teaching we learn,’ it’s been, ‘do more with less,’” Wells said. “Like an elastic waistband, people can be stretched. Also like an elastic waistband, when we’re overstretched we break, and when we break unfortunate flaws can be exposed.”

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