Q&A Archives

President's Q&A, January 2012

January 18, 2012

The following are excerpts from Dr. Perman’s Q&A on Jan. 18 at the Francis King Carey School of Law.

I want to talk a little bit first of all about the format of these Q&A sessions. I got these started over a year ago, shortly after I came to campus. Like everything else that is new, there was a great deal of interest in these sessions and we had very large groups. As the backlog of questions gets answered, interest drops off a little. Now I’m feeling sheepish saying that because I look out at the audience and there are plenty of people here, including a lot of people I don’t know and that makes me happy actually that there is a sense of interest in these sessions. 

But we thought in view of the desire to make these kinds of interactions between all of you as useful as possible, we were going to try something different moving forward. So I’m going to mix and match these things every month. Every three months we’ll have a big session like this in a campus building. So what we’re doing in the law school now we’ll do again in April. In the meantime, what I’m going to do in the months between the quarterly sessions is have brown bag lunches. Anybody can come, but you have to sign up (Lunch With the President) on a first-come, first-served basis. 

I know it’s human nature that there are many perhaps who are not at ease asking a question in a very large group who would be very comfortable interacting with me and having a dialogue in a smaller group and I hope that’s the case. So we’re going to try that out. If it doesn’t work, we’ll probably go back to these large sessions on a reasonably frequent basis. Any questions about that?

Q: To come to this session at 1 p.m. I had to take personal time instead of using my lunch hour. Is there any way these could start at noon so I could use my lunch hour?

Dr. Perman: My luck. This is the first time we’ve started one of these at 1. We’ve always had these from 12 to 1. Doing it from 1 to 2 we figured might help some people who had trouble with the 12 to 1 time. So what clearly worked for some people hasn’t worked for you.

Jennifer Litchman, interim chief communications officer and vice president: We’re also going to do some from 11 to 12, some 12 to 1 and some from 1 to 2.

Dr. Perman: Fair? Thank you for the question.

One of the things that goes along with the interaction that I want to have with all of you is the Q&A website we’ve put together. It’s the opportunity to ask me a question. A lot of questions are anonymous and what I’ve been doing over the months is bringing a stack of notecards and answering the questions to the large monthly groups. I have no idea whether the person who asked the question is even in the room. So we’d like to make a renewed attempt to answer people directly. But to do that when you’re putting forth a question I will need your contact information. We will keep the information private. 

And if there is a series of questions that all relate to the same topic, I’m going to answer that in the newsletter as well. Obviously the names of the people who submitted the question will not be published. So let’s try that with the Q&A. I love the questions; some are hard, some are very pointed, sometimes you are upset about things—I understand that. But you’ve got to tell me who you are. I will keep it confidential and answer you directly.

If there are serious issues you feel you need to report, there is a hotline with a phone number or you can do it online (www.umaryland.ethicspoint.com). And that can be anonymous.

Any questions about the Q&A?

Let me bring you up to date on the strategic planning process. 

We are ready to start the implementation phase of that plan, which will guide us for the next five years and maybe the five years after that.

Town Halls have been scheduled to allow opportunities to get updated on the implementation process and the timeline and how our staff, our faculty, and our students will have a chance to continue to be a part of the process. The best organizations are organizations where people feel that they have a voice in what’s going on. And that is the kind of organization I intend to run. We care about ideas; we might not agree on everything, but you’ve all got to have a voice in where this organization is going. 

This University is highly admired. We found out how much when the merger study was going on. There were a lot of people who spoke up for us. Now we’re going to do something that I say is much more elegant than a merger—namely create an alliance between us and College Park and we’re working very hard on that. Our University is well supported by people in the state of Maryland and I really hope it will continue to be a better and better place to work. Now, what’s on your minds?

Q: Those of us from the housekeeping staff have come here today to discuss our need for a raise. They stopped the furloughs, but we are constantly pushed back, they keep going in our pocket. I remember you saying at your inauguration that you were going to make it better, you were going to try to put back wages, to do right by the people who work here. To do better work, we need to be treated better and they need to put us back at our salaries and then give us some people. There are a lot of us now working two or three jobs. It’s hard and I love this job.

Dr. Perman: What do you do?

Questioner: I clean, I clean the HIV clinic and I see to it that that clinic is clean because I care about the people. And I feel as though I’m struggling. I bring home $389 every two weeks. I have to work another job and sometimes another job and I shouldn’t have to do that. It’s not the position that I do; it’s the work that I do. It shouldn’t matter that I’m a housekeeper. I resent it; my life is on the line every time I step into any area that’s infected. I used to work at University Hospital. University 13, 12, 11, 9th—all those areas. And I love cleaning, but I think I’m not getting paid—I think all of us here, are not getting paid what we are worth. That’s why we are here. I had to use my time today to come here to you. I don’t want to come to my job too tired to do my work. I thank God I have a job. But it’s like we’re not respected. We help this campus and the support groups. Everybody helps this campus. It isn’t just the big bosses. It’s the little people, too. That’s what keeps this campus going. So don’t forget about us. Keep us on your mind. 

Dr. Perman: I appreciate your honesty and the dignity that you bring to your words and to your job. And that goes for everybody here. I need you all to know that every job—and more importantly every person—is important to this University. Or we don’t move forward. 

There is no trivial job here and I can tell you that during my days as a pediatric chair—and I don’t want this taken the wrong way because I speak from the heart the same way you do—the only way we got sick kids admitted to the hospital quickly was because of what the housekeepers did. Not the physicians, not the nurses, what the housekeepers did in order to make the place ready and safe for the next person. You’re doing that in the HIV Clinic, other people here are doing it elsewhere. I value everybody’s work in this University. So no one is demeaned and nobody, at least in my book, is any less important than anyone else. 

So what about wages? The fact of the matter is that with regard to raises, I think you all know we are governed as a state agency by what the legislature tells us we can do. That’s not a cop-out, that’s not an excuse, that’s the fact of the matter. I will tell you one of the things I pleaded for in the last legislative session and that I’m spending my time doing in Annapolis this session is saying the following: If you can’t give us more money in order to run our University, OK, but if we can only have the flexibility to do what we need to do for our people in this University, that will be enough.

So I need you to know that’s the message I’m delivering and I hope we will have the permission to have flexibility so we can look at what we do, find the dollars to do it, and try to advance people. Thank you again for your remarks. I hear you loud and clear. 

Q: I’ve been a part-time employee here at the University for over 30 years. I’m a writing consultant with the School of Social Work as well as with the Writing Center. I rise this afternoon to express my concern about the significant cut in hours that the writing consultants have had to endure this past semester. All of the consultants have graduate degrees. It is our responsibility to work with the students in all of the schools at this University to help them with their papers and their dissertations, their personal statements, and any writing assignments that they have in order for them to be productive in their classroom experience. Well, we have not been able to do that to our fullest capacity because of the cut in hours. The students have become frustrated, their faculty members have become frustrated because we don’t have the manpower—all of us are part-time, none of us has any benefits. When I say part-time I was working maybe 25 hours and I was cut down to 11. The students are our No. 1 priority and we want to help them. 

Dr. Perman: I always try to be honest so I will be honest with you. I didn’t know that we had writing consultants. And I’m glad to hear it. I don’t know anything about your work and your hours, etc. There are people here who represent my leadership and let’s see if they have any comments.

Roger Ward, associate vice president for academic affairs: The writing consultants are part of our campus life services in the Office of Academic Affairs and they provide a valuable service to our students. The questioner was right, we have had to cut back in the past calendar year because of budget constraints and we had to make decisions whether to lay off consultants or spread the cutback across the division. So this academic year we decided the best approach would be to scale back each consultant’s hours. What we also did was bring in a consultant to review the current model for our Writing Center and our goal is to allocate appropriate resources and reconstruct our Writing Center. It is a valuable service. The decision has to do with available resources. We’ve been operating that service, and many other services in Academic Affairs, at a deficit and we just had to make hard decisions.

Q: If we as the founding campus of the University System are already constrained is now the best time to push an alliance with other universities? We’re going to have an alliance with College Park. That means at some point the people in College Park—even if they’re not going to be staying on campus here—they are going to be coming down here, and everyone is going to have more work than we already do. And as you have heard today, many of us already feel overworked because of cutbacks, staff shortages, and what have you. So is now really the best time? 

Or could you possibly use that as a power play in Annapolis to position us for what we need, which is more resources—whether it is getting more hours or better pay or supplies, whatever. I just feel like sometimes with decisions that everybody is looking two and five and 10 years in the future, which is fine. But you can’t take your eye off of right now. I can’t take my eye off tomorrow. I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, but everybody is already planning into the future. At some point you just have to say ‘Wait a minute. Right now that’s a great idea. A lot of lovely things could come from it. But right now is it so important if we made it so far without it?’

Unless you can find a way, and maybe I don’t know enough about it. It just seems like honestly it’s not the time to push an alliance because you’re going to put more stress on the University at a time when we’re already stressed.

Dr. Perman: That’s a very good statement and let me respond to it. Your concerns are totally reasonable. In fact, in the course of responding to the directive from the legislature that we consider merging the University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Maryland, Baltimore, the cost of doing so was looked at. And it was one of the factors in the regents deciding not to recommend a merger. Now why would a merger cost money? When we looked at experiences from elsewhere and thinking through what is required of a merger, there was actually significant cost in it in terms of the information technology that would be needed, the cost of the back and forth in transportation, a whole variety of issues, that in this day and age were problematic. And that is why in part the regents decided to direct the president of College Park and myself and the chancellor to see what we can do in creating the kinds of collaborations that actually grow revenue for the universities. 

How do you grow revenue by collaborating? Well, you grow revenue by becoming more competitive in what you do. So that when you compete for scarce resources with other organizations at the federal level, for example, you’re in a better position to win the money. Now that means revenue and that means jobs here or the security of jobs.

All of you need to know this place is a billion-dollar-ayear operation. In other words, we spend a billion dollars a year in what we all do here and most of that is in our collective wages. Now the state provides about $180 million of that billion dollars. So more than 80 percent of it is generated by the folks here. And the point I’m making is this: To the extent that you can attract more we have more money left over. It isn’t the state that provides everything that we do here. I’m very grateful and you should be grateful for what the taxpayer provides here and we need every penny. But most of it we earn, starting with the jobs that you all do because as I said before we can’t do it without all of us. But we have to earn our own way. So it wasn’t a matter of merger vs. nothing; we needed to do something, with the hope that it would create more revenue and more resources. 

Now that being said, the regents made it clear in their report, the presidents and chancellor are making it clear, we can only do what we are provided resources to do. So we have a lot of good ideas for this alliance, but the alliance is going to take resources. In fact, some of these ideas can absolutely not get started without the resources to do it. So to your point about telling Annapolis here’s a great idea, I always like to say when people say to me, ‘Can you do that?’ I don’t like to say ‘No, because’ I’d rather say ‘Yes, if.’ If we’re provided the resources, this is what we can do. So I want to reassure you that we are not blind to the fact that big ideas cost money and the dollars need to come from somewhere.

Q: It seems unfair that the state provides only $180 million of our billion-dollar budget but yet is so successful at tying our hands with everything we do. Procurement, salary directives—18 percent is such a small portion yet they are so powerful. Is there any flexibility or a pseudo-state entity we could have?

You actually ask a profound question. There actually is some discussion within the system, and I hope I can make this reasonably clear, about the system universities—even though they are public universities—operating something that’s called a public corporation. That’s actually in the law. This is something the legislature drafted some years ago. And the system probably has not realized its full potential.

That discussion is ongoing. That’s something that needs to be done at the system level. That said, apart from the 12 years I worked at Johns Hopkins, my entire career has been a career in public institutions. And, to the point you make, it’s much easier deciding what you want to do as a family to work in a private institution.

But I think the reason I’m here, and the reasons lots of you are here, is because of the responsibility we feel to the public good. I don’t suggest for a minute that private institutions and private universities don’t do the same good that we do. But I don’t think anybody has the responsibility for the public good and the public education and the public advancement to the extent that public universities have. And yes, to work in a public institution you have some handcuffs and it seems unfair I agree. 

Q: I work in HS/HSL. This week someone was almost hit by a bus at Greene and Lombard. That area is so dangerous and now with the hospital’s emergency area on Lombard Street I was wondering if that’s going to be permanent? It just makes it more hectic crossing that road, which we all do often. 

Tony Williams, chief of the University Police Force: You can expect changes in that area will be in effect for about two years and it is directly related to the construction of the new Shock Trauma Center. We have put police out there to help with those traffic concerns. We certainly recognize more needs to be done at intersections around campus and there have already been some improvements, for example restriping and the plan to mark them and highlight the intersections, put signs out. Some of those things, quite frankly, are beyond our direct control because we need the city to do that work. They have pledged to do that for us. 

The other thing I would ask is for all of us to take some responsibility for our own safety. I don’t want to offend anyone, but we know that the intersections are potentially dangerous but I really believe—including the incident earlier this week—that sometimes we don’t pay attention as we should when we cross roadways. I even had an employee from own department who got hit a few months ago. Yes, the law says that if you’re a pedestrian in the crosswalk you have the right of way—that traffic is supposed to stop. We enforce that, we write tickets. But here is our reality. If we’re standing in a crosswalk we’ve got to look before we leap, so to speak. No matter what the law says, I’ve got to stop. I can’t take the chance that a bus or a car is going to do what they are supposed to do and stop. I can’t control that vehicle, but I can control how I respond to it. So as your Department of Public Safety, we’ll do what we can. But we also ask that you work with us to do the things you can to be safe yourself. Our motto is ‘Safety Begins with You’ and that acknowledges that all of us have to participate in our own safety.

Dr. Perman: All right. I appreciate the frankness of the questions and the comments of today. Keep them coming. I’ll do the best I can. 

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