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Chancellor Kent Syverud Provides Update on New Leadership Appointments at University Senate
Thank you, Professor Stokes-Rees.
Good afternoon. I hope everyone had a good spring break and is ready for the fast-moving second half of the semester.
Before I begin what are going to be really brief updates, I want to take a moment to reflect on the Service of Commemoration held yesterday in Hendricks Chapel. Some of you on this meeting helped with that moving ceremony, and I thank all of you. Each year at the ceremony, my role is to read the names of faculty, staff, retirees and trustees who have passed away during the previous year. There were a lot of them this year, and there were also student names read as well. Many of those whose names I read are people I know personally. Their friends and family attend this event, and it was meaningful to them. I know that many of the people we commemorated yesterday meant a great deal to people here in this assembly. I thought it would be a civilized thing to do to ask that the minutes of this Senate meeting reflect the names of the people we remembered and that we take a moment to hold their memory in our thoughts in silence.
Thank you. My updates are going to be brief. I want to talk a little bit about changes to the University’s benefits for faculty and staff and then about three searches ongoing or completed that we’ve been briefing the Senate on along the way.
I spent a day during the spring break reviewing just how we as a University got to where we currently stand on retirement benefits and health care benefits. By that I mean I reviewed the substance of our current retirement and health care benefits for faculty and staff, and the process by which two changes were adopted—one the requirement of a match for new employees to receive retirement contributions by the University, and the other an increase in the cost of family coverage under some, but not all, of our health plans.
I want to reaffirm that the match requirement for retirement benefits has not yet been implemented, and will not be implemented unless and until I am satisfied that the questions raised in the Senate and its committees have been adequately answered, which will be this summer at the very earliest. The increase in the cost of family coverage for some of our health plans was to be implemented in three steps, one this year this past January, one next year, and one in 2024. That first step has been implemented, but any further steps again will not be implemented unless and until I am satisfied that the questions raised in the Senate and its committees have been adequately answered, which in this case at the earliest will be open enrollment at the end of October 2022.
I said all of that at the last Senate meeting. What I did not say was how I thought we should go about addressing the concerns that have been raised. I did not say because I was not yet sure about it and wanted spring break to think about it. I do now know more about how I think we ought to proceed.
Over break, I reviewed the points made in the Senate meetings, and I read the various Senate reports and minutes, including the two committees that previously worked on these issues—the Benefits Advisory Council, which is appointed by our human resources leadership, and the Senate Committee on Services to Faculty and Staff. I have respect for these committees and their members. I believe they proceeded on these proposed changes consistently with how benefits changes were considered in the past under previous chancellors. That said, I don’t think the traditional process worked well in surfacing and addressing all the relevant issues so that the Senate could serve its appropriate shared governance role—in this case its role as advisor to the Chancellor on issues of concern to faculty and staff. In particular, I don’t think we consulted widely enough with the expertise we do have available across the University, including on the faculty, and I don’t think we consulted widely enough with representatives of those directly affected by the changes, which is a subset of our faculty and staff.
In reflection on all this, I would like to view this as an opportunity to revise our process for benefits changes so that this does not happen in the future. It has been a very long time since anyone looked carefully at our benefits process as a whole. And it is foreseeable that, given events in the world, including war and inflation, there will be pressure on our benefits, some of which we cannot predict, and anxiety about them in the future. We need to get the process right going forward and learn from what’s happened this year.
What I propose to do between now and the April Senate meeting, which is just three weeks away, is to have University leadership confer with broader groups of relevant stakeholders and experts on BOTH the substance of these particular proposed changes and the desirable process for any changes to our benefits going forward. I am also directing the collection of data on these particular proposed changes, some of which was recommended as part of the process of these Senate meetings. That would include comparable data from peers and data on impact on our people. That data will help inform both the substance and the process discussions going forward.
I will report back to the full Senate on the progress on this work again at the April meeting on what further steps need to occur after April given what we’ve learned. There will be more discussion of this and an opportunity to discuss the initial steps forward at the April meeting.
I will turn now to new leadership appointments. Our new associate vice president and chief of Campus Safety and Emergency Management Services, Craig Stone, starts April 1. He has over 30 years of law enforcement experience. Much of that has been in public safety at major universities, including Ohio State University. I want to thank those who served on the search committee, including Brice Nordquist, Andrew Saluti, Dean Raj Dewan, and our student representatives, David Bruen and Yousr Dhaouadi, who helped with that search.
Yesterday, we announced that Mary Grace Almandrez will be our new vice president for diversity and inclusion. She was selected following a national search that yielded a highly qualified and talented pool of candidates and finalists. She will lead the finalization and implementation of the draft DEIA Strategic Plan. She will also collaborate closely with student leadership and stakeholder groups.
She has nearly 25 years of experience in higher education, including leadership roles at Brown University, the University of San Francisco, and, most recently, at the University of Rhode Island (URI). Her appointment will start on June 1. I want to thank the entire committee, including chairs Cerri Banks and Brian Konkol; student representatives Britnee Johnson and Malique Lewis; and faculty representatives Christopher Hamilton, Gladys McCormick and Suzette Melendez. I think Mary Grace is going to lead us to the next level in this important work. This is important work not just for Mary Grace but for all of us.
Finally, the search committee for the new chief financial officer has almost finalized the position description. We are working with Korn Ferry as our search firm. We do anticipate a robust pool of candidates with the experience to drive the long-term fiscal sustainability of the University. That will be a relatively fast process that I hope will produce a chief financial officer in place this summer. I don’t want to take for granted what Gwenn Judge has done for us in the interim. Under her leadership, things have run well. We anticipate a balanced budget for this fiscal year, which had more challenges than expected because of what’s been happening in the world these last couple months. I am grateful to Gwenn and optimistic about that search.
Those are my updates. As usual, I will take questions after Provost Ritter’s remarks. Thank you.