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Seattle University


Fairness and governance

Written by Mike Thee
May 17, 2010

It was right around this time last year that the results of the faculty and staff satisfaction survey came out. Since then, a great deal of work has been done to dig deeper and learn more about the feedback that was gathered. These additional findings, which were facilitated by a university-wide task force, are close to being finalized and will be compiled in a report to the Executive Team next month.

Just to quickly review, last year’s employee satisfaction survey revealed that the university is doing very well in many areas. Respondents, for instance, expressed exceptional affiliation with the Jesuit Catholic dimension of SU; overall good rapport with chair and supervisor; freedom to do their job; strong connection with university activities related to global and local communities; and a feeling that the university is fulfilling its commitments to diversity, faith and justice.

The survey revealed there were also a few areas that could be improved, most notably fairness and governance. To learn more about these concerns, the university set up the Satisfaction Improvement Task Force.

As for the task force looking at fairness and governance, each college and school has a representative.

Representatives began meeting in the fall and facilitated focus group sessions during winter quarter. Janet Shandley, director of graduate admissions, is representing non-faculty members who are part of the Provost’s Office.  She says the idea of the focus groups was to look beyond the “raw responses from the survey and get down to the substance behind those ratings.” It was more about finding the root causes, she says, than problem solving. That will come later.

A big part of the process, Shandley says, was defining what was meant by fairness and governance. In many cases, she says, there was crossover between the two areas, and quite often, a common denominator was the desire for better communication.

“I think there’s a well of goodwill (among faculty and staff),” Shandley says, “and that people want to be heard and feel like there’s a forum for being heard.”

As Shandley sees it, some of the concern with governance and fairness can be attributed to the fast pace at which the university has grown recently. Shandley, who has been at SU for 24 years, says it was a lot easier to keep everyone informed and involved when the university was operating on a smaller, more intimate scale, and that the institution’s communications infrastructure is still adapting to and catching up with its growth.

What’s next?

This month many task force members will send a final questionnaire to their respective units to assess the relative importance of the many priorities and concerns that were unearthed through the focus groups. Task force members will then present the findings that are unique to their units to the heads of their colleges and divisions. The feedback will also be shared with Human Resources, which will pull together a consolidated report that focuses on commonalities across the university. That report is scheduled to be submitted to the Executive Team by the end of June.

Donna Sylvester, associate professor of mathematics, is representing the College of Science of Engineering on the task force. She says she is looking forward to the final report. “It will be interesting to see whether something is a localized or a university-wide issue.”

Both she and Shandley say that addressing issues of governance and fairness will be an ongoing process. At the same time, the feedback sessions and other input received point to some low-hanging fruit that they believe can be addressed in the near term.

Shandley says she has been encouraged by the process so far. “All the years I’ve been here, this is the first time we’ve dug below the surface like this and pulled the veil off some things that have been hidden. I’m heartened that there’s even been a commitment to this level of discourse.”