Thursday, May 6, 2021

Heather Mineart, Staff Council President

As I enter my final month as UISC President, I’m finally taking an opportunity to reflect on the last year and fully digest where we started and where we are now.

I’ve been a part of the campus community for almost 20 years, and I’ve spent the last 4 years on Staff Council. I joined Council to get involved and to be a voice for staff and staff issues including budget cuts, workloads, salary policy, and employee benefits, to name a few. What I’ve learned is that UISC plays a critical role on campus and in the State of Iowa in promoting collaboration, diverse perspectives, transparency, and staff recognition.

This past month I’ve seen some glimpses of campus normalcy, but overall, my term as UISC President has not taken the traditional route as my predecessors. Our world has changed - we have continued to endure the global pandemic, social injustice, derecho in August, budget cuts, not to mention the pressure and stresses affecting our personal lives and that has played a role in everything we do.

As a result of these changes, staff have had to be agile; many have had to learn to work differently in a remote world, while others, many whom are health care employees, have continued to work on campus to provide essential job functions to keep the day-to-day operations working. These changes have caused us to look at the nature of work in a new way and to ask ourselves what the future of work at Iowa looks like.

Communication has been of upmost importance during the last year, and we’ve really had to look differently at the way we communicate and how we can drive 2-way dialogue in an online world.  Through our efforts we’ve rebuilt our website, placed more effort into our monthly newsletter, and stressed the importance of communication from our councilors to their constituents. We’ve also seen record numbers of guests attend our monthly meetings, which signifies to us that our campus community is longing for connection.

For the last several years, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion has been a topic of utmost importance across campus and around the country. While we know we still have a lot of work to do, Staff Council has worked to embed DEI-related initiatives into our committee work.  This year, our Awards Committee has established a new award titled Staff Award for Distinguished Leadership in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion which recognizes Merit, Merit Supervisory Exempt/Confidential, and Professional and Scientific staff who exemplify Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion around campus and our community.  The Committee on Committees has changed the way the Charter Committee staff selection process is done by anonymizing all identifying information to eliminate any bias and base the selection solely on questions answered in the application.

This year I also put an emphasis on Staff Council representation on university committees, where counselors can advocate and make a difference on behalf of all staff. At the current time, 30 of our 55 councilors are representing staff on 40 committees; these committees do not include Presidential Charter Committees nor UI Staff Council Committees, and I am continuing to place emphasis/significance in this area as new opportunities arise. 

While many of our accomplishments have been behind the scenes, we’ve continued to push initiatives that we see coming to life across campus, such as the supervisor training which is currently underway, the enhanced time release policy guidance on staff participation in shared governance, the new DEI award mentioned earlier, and our current effort to double the funds available in our staff Tuition Assistance Program. These and many other initiatives have been years in the making from the hard work of both current and past staff councilors.

I have continued to be impressed with the level of participation from senior leaders and the inclusion of shared governance in getting a ‘first look’ at how the budget works, what’s behind policies and procedures across campus, as well as invitations for partnerships with Faculty Senate, Undergraduate Student Government and Graduate Student & Professional Student Government. The importance of shared governance on our campus has been an eye-opening experience.

In the end, it has been a great pleasure to represent the over 7,900 Professional and Scientific Staff across this great institution.