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Survey reveals low classified staff morale

Mark Vidal
Editorial Director

Low pay, lack of opportunity and discrimination are just a few of the issues classified staff at the University of La Verne find troubling, according to a recent climate survey.

The survey, whose results were released last month in connection with the University’s recent Western Association of Schools and Colleges review, found that only 33 percent of classified employees are satisfied with internal salary equity.

This did not surprise Jennifer Breitigan, chair of the classified committee. She said that she recently learned at a Feb. 17 meeting on the issue of classified and administrative pay that 158 out of approximately 180 classified employees are paid 10 percent or more below the market rate.

“I would like to see classified staff below 10 percent be brought up because they work very hard,” said Breitigan, who works as an account clerk in the finance department.

Frank Montalvo, chief human resources officer, said that his office is responsible for submitting current market survey data and making salary recommendations to the administrative body.

“We have to work on this,” Montalvo said. “I’m not surprised by the results. We have been hearing about this in the past, and the biggest thing for classified is not making enough money. We want to be able to recruit and give them a fair pay and good benefits. We have an excellent retirement plan,” he added.

Related to the issue of inadequate pay, is the issue of professional development. One of the action recommendations from the survey is to create more opportunities for professional development in technology areas.

“A lot of people see themselves stuck in positions with not a lot of room for growth,” said Alvaro Alvarez, co-chair of the classified committee and electronic services technician in Wilson Library.

The survey showed that only 41 percent are satisfied with promotion opportunities.

“There is the perception that people are not being promoted; we might want to create a better working environment so people can have confidence,” Montalvo said.

While many results of the survey were not particularly surprising, 19 percent of classified employees saying they have experienced discrimination was unexpected.

“I was surprised to hear that many people have experienced discrimination,” Breitigan said.

This may be an issue that the Human Resources department plans to resolve as part of a stronger effort to meet the needs of employees.

One of the recommended actions for the Human Resources department is to provide supervisor training to address issues related to listening skills, team work (not job sharing), giving specific praise and dealing with difficult employees.

“The Human Resources Department is ineffective and does not serve our employees well,” wrote one of the respondents in the survey’s “open-ended questions” section.

Other respondents expressed concerns about lack of respect from management, harassment issues and generally low morale.

“We’ve been working on this issue for some time now. We just rolled out a new performance management system and we are about to role out a new employee orientation program,” Montalvo said.

Last spring the 43-item survey, complete with an open-ended question section, went out to all 184 classified employees. In the end a total of 128 responded, a 70 percent return rate.

“I was impressed by the return rate,” Montalvo said. “I think 70 percent offers credible data.”

Two weeks ago the WASC visiting team was on campus to begin the process of re-accreditation. This process played a key role in prompting campus-wide climate surveys.

Although the WASC team is now gone, it will be back soon.

“Last week’s visit was a preliminary visit,” said Aghop Der-Karabetian, associate vice president for university assessment.

The final stage in the accreditation process will be the Educational Effectiveness Review, scheduled for Oct. 12-14, 2011. And with the efforts of the University’s Educational Effectiveness Committee, particularly its Climate Subcommittee, reaccreditation is well under way.

But before the University reaches that essential goal, it must address how it plans to improve the work environment for its classified employees in terms of culture and climate.

Der-Karabetian said the educational subcommittee will gather information from this survey, as well as information from surveys for full and part-time faculty and students in the coming months, and will present the information to senior management so that they know where action is required.

“A year from now we will come back and ask what actions were taken. And by 2011 we will have all four reports from all constituents at ULV that will help WASC know how we use data to make improvements,” Der-Karabetian said. “And that to me is a critical piece as to how we use this information to improve ourselves.”

This is the first comprehensive survey of its kind. While much of the information brought up was a wake-up call, some classified staff members are happy to have at least voiced their opinions.

“I was satisfied with the survey because it showed me that other people in the department are going through the same thing,” Alvarez said. “It showed me that I’m not alone in the concerns that I have, and maybe one day things will change.”

Mark Vidal can be reached at mark.vidal@laverne.edu.

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