Chancellor offers advice to staff on weathering tough times

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs

13 November 2002 | Because the university will likely face budget shortages for some time to come — resulting in minimal salary increases for employees — Chancellor Robert Berdahl urged staff gathered at a recent forum to take advantage of career-development opportunities, then use those new skills to pursue higher-paying jobs on campus.

“Advancing one’s career at Berkeley is how people will see their incomes rise faster than can be done with cost-of-living or merit increases,” the chancellor said on Tuesday, Nov. 5, during his annual “Chat with Staff” in Sibley Auditorium. The administration’s job “is to make sure the campus provides the training and opportunities for these advancements to take place.”

He cited the recently implemented Career Development Opportunity Program as an important resource for staff who are interested in acquiring the skills needed to move into more lucrative campus positions. The program, created by the Office of Human Resources and the Staff Infrastructure Steering Committee, provides up to $5,250 per year in training expenses for each employee.

“I realize this is more of a long-term solution — one that doesn’t answer the problem we have right now as you face a miniscule 1.5-percent salary increase,” he added. “Just yesterday, in a meeting with the Office of the President to define our bare-minimum priorities for the coming year, we came up with two: funding the administrative costs associated with enrollment growth and increasing staff salaries.”

Berdahl said the university will ask the legislature to consider a 4- to 4.5-percent salary increase for next year: “That doesn’t make up a lot of ground, but at least it would halt the erosion of salaries. But I don’t know if we’ll get that from the legislature.”

Students should bear ‘fair share’ of burden
Student fees will likely increase to help ease some of the budget constraints faced by the university, he said.

“The strategy has to be that no one sector of the university should shoulder a greater burden than others, so students are going to have to face reality and bear their fair share,” Berdahl said. “If you look at our fees in constant dollars, they are actually lower today than they were in 1971, and half of what students pay at the University of Michigan.”

Workload was another issue the chancellor addressed during his talk. Staffing levels decreased during the budget crunch of the early 1990s, when hiring freezes were implemented and many senior employees took advantage of the cost-cutting Voluntary Early Retirement Incentive Program. The number of full-time-equivalent staff has risen slightly since then, he said, but some campus areas on are still critically short-staffed.

“Over the years, we’ve taken pride in demonstrating that we can do more with less, but you come to a point where there is no more give, where people are stretched to the maximum,” said Berdahl. “We will be talking about this critical issue at the next Dean’s Council meeting and will try to come up with some creative solutions to help units that are particularly impacted.”

In a Q&A portion of the event, staff asked the chancellor about the likelihood of early-retirement or time-reduction programs being introduced as a way to trim operating costs, as was done in the lean times of the last decade. But with workload already a major concern, he said, it is doubtful such programs would be utilized.

“These are not useful solutions to the crisis we face,” Berdahl said. “Not only does it increase workload, but the cost of rehiring people makes any cost benefit negligible at best.”

The chancellor’s address to staff was sponsored by the Berkeley Staff Assembly, a campus group that works to keep staff informed about important issues, encourages them to voice opinions to the campus administration, and offers them an opportunity to become more involved in campus life.


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