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Did you know? Nearly every time there’s a significant initiative that impacts the university, UC staff have a seat at the table thanks to the Council of UC Staff Assemblies (CUCSA/the Council). Composed of elected staff leaders from nearly every UC location, the Council is completely organized, managed and run by UC staff.

On November 26, 2019, CUCSA will mark the 45th anniversary of its founding. This is a significant milestone in the history of the Council, and a perfect time to reflect upon the remarkable leadership of UC staff in creating a workplace culture of mutual respect, recognition and growth.

Matters of interest

CUCSA’s mission statement is:

“In support of the mission of the University of California, it is the purpose of the Council of UC Staff Assemblies (CUCSA) to maintain and enhance communication within the University Community on matters of interest to staff employees in accordance with California laws and Regent policy.” 

What are “matters of interest to staff employees”? Throughout CUCSA’s history, staff leaders have helped advance many critical issues, including promoting diversity and LGBTQ inclusion, compensation policies, career development, housing availability and staff morale. Since 1977, they have served on universitywide committees, weighing in on such topics as affirmative action, sexual harassment, violence in the workplace, budget issues and child care. In 2006, CUCSA efforts led to the creation of the staff advisors to the Board of Regents (positions held today by Ann Jeffrey and Kate Klimow).

“It can sometimes be difficult for staff to feel like they have a voice in the UC system,” says Business Officer Greta Carl-Halle of UC Santa Barbara, a former CUCSA chair. “Faculty have a powerful voice because of shared governance, and students have a strong voice because of the sheer number of them. CUCSA is valuable in that it articulates what staff are feeling and why they’re feeling it, then shares those concerns with the administration along with ideas of how we can improve. CUCSA’s angle is always: ‘Here’s what you can do to support staff as they work to honor the university’s mission.’”

One memorable issue that came up during Carl-Halle’s term as chair was UC’s support for staff veterans. “Even though veterans are just a small portion of our population, they’re very important,” she says. “Thanks to my work with CUCSA, I had the opportunity to partner with the director of our local Veterans Resources Center at UC Santa Barbara — which at the time, focused only on student outreach — to create a staff veterans’ group here on campus. Now, staff veterans have a place to turn when they need support.” Another key initiative in her time was wellness. CUCSA advocacy was integral to expanding the now-systemwide Healthy Campus Network program outside of UCLA.

“CUCSA presents a unique opportunity for staff, not only to discuss what’s happening on their respective campuses but to propose and work on solutions. Having that voice really matters,” says former CUCSA member Jason Valdry, director of technology, Claire Trevor School of the Arts, UC Irvine.

Strengthening a systemwide network

Amanda Chavez is a labor relations senior analyst at UC San Diego and the current CUCSA chair. She explains that regular meetings with staff leaders throughout the UC system are key to CUCSA’s success. Delegates gain a unique opportunity to learn which issues affecting their campuses are presenting challenges at a systemwide level. They then have an opportunity to work together to address them. “CUCSA is a very beneficial conduit between and UC leadership and the general staff among the UC locations,” she says.

Carl-Halle agrees. “Having an opportunity to interface with staff from all UC locations is incredibly valuable. There are so many things our Staff Assembly does differently because we learned about them from another campus through CUCSA.”

As an example: Carl-Halle learned that a staff assembly chair from UC Davis had coffee with all new employees as a way to connect with them. While it wasn’t feasible to follow that structure exactly at UC Santa Barbara, Carl-Halle initiated a monthly new employee mixer following orientation. She partnered with the campus staff associations to welcome new employees with coffee and a chance to meet representatives from each organization. “It’s been a huge success — and it all sparked from that one idea at CUCSA,” she says.

Valdry, who in addition to being a UC Irvine alumnus is a former staff advisor to the Regents, first developed his passion for systemwide staff leadership while participating in CUCSA. “It gave me a new perspective — I was able to really understand the breadth of our university and the diverse experiences staff at different campuses had,” he says.

“I surprised myself by becoming quite passionate about retiree health benefits,” he recalls. “Even though it isn’t a topic that affects current employees, I strongly believed that the way we treat our retirees sends a strong signal about how we are planning to treat employees in the future.”

Helping drive the future of the university

Another crucial role of CUCSA that will surface early next year is providing staff insight into the selection of UC’s next president. “The past few weeks, I’ve been putting together a staff advisory committee that will advise the selection committee. We’ll meet with them next week to share our feelings around what we think is needed in the next UC leader,” says Chavez. 

Carl-Halle was part of the process of selecting President Janet Napolitano. “I felt like we were taken very seriously about what we thought was important for the role of this person,” she says. “It felt really good to be at the table. Our main message was ‘Please keep staff in mind when making decisions that affect us,’” she explains.

Valdry participated in CUCSA during the Napolitano search as well, and was part of the group who made an official presentation to the Regents about what staff were looking for in the next president. “We were looking for a leader who would recognize the value and contributions that staff make to keeping an organization of this size running,” he says. 

Consider joining your staff assembly leadership

All staff at each location are technically part of the staff assembly — even if they’ve never attended a meeting of the advisory committee (i.e. local leadership). Still, if you haven’t yet become involved, you may wish to do so.

According to Chavez, participating in Staff Assembly also offers valuable opportunities to build mentorships. “We’re all invested in each other’s’ success, and in our campus’. We understand that it’s valuable to help our colleagues succeed, and we’re committed to doing our part to ensure their success.” 

“I feel like so many of the leadership skills that I have learned at UC Santa Barbara have come out of my experiences in Staff Assembly,” says Carl-Halle. “The opportunity to work with the administration gives you a better understanding of how decisions are made, and a better understanding of what is happening on your campus. And, I think it’s just amazing to be part of making a difference.” 

Check out the Staff Assembly website for your location:

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