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President's Q&A, September 2011
September 26, 2011
The following are excerpts of questions and answers from Dr. Perman’s Q&A on Sept. 26 at the Southern Management Corporation Campus Center. Some questions came from the audience and others were sent to Dr. Perman during the summer at his Q&A email line.
Q: How come the employee service awards are held at the Marriott when we have a beautiful new Southern Management Corporation Campus Center that also may be more economical amid the state budget crisis?
The program has so grown in participation over the years that this place cannot comfortably house the event, which is now drawing more than 300 participants and guests.
Q: How come retirees are not included in the employee service awards? Why do they get no recognition after giving many years of service?
Retirees who achieve one of the service thresholds are invited to the luncheon even if they are no longer employed. We try to recognize the retirees. They often are honored by the schools and departments in which they work, but I am going to ask Human Resources to explore ways that we can do a better job of recognizing people when they retire.
Q: Is UM operating in the red or in the black? Where do you see the operating budget in two years?
It is an appropriate question for our times. The simple answer is we’re not allowed to operate in the red [losing money]. By state mandate, we operate in the black, but as you know we often have to make significant reductions in spending each year to achieve this. In the interest of full disclosure, the initial information we are beginning to get for the outlook for fiscal year 2013, the budget we need to put in place for next year, is not encouraging. The state is facing a billion-dollar budget deficit so it’s possible we may have to make further reductions in our operating budget. And just like in our personal lives, expenses go up. Costs keep rising, be it for utilities or benefits like health care. I would tell you while it’s not encouraging I’m pretty confident that with our leadership team and the people who work here we will do what we do every year, which is work smarter, figure out what we can do and can’t do, and we’ll continue to operate in the black.
Q: When you close the campus early, for example the Friday before the Memorial Day weekend, why are employees of the law school not allowed to leave?
Now I did not close the University early on that day. Sometimes we have to close the campus for weather-related issues or events like the Baltimore Grand Prix when, yes, it was my decision to close the campus for the first day of the race that Friday. But when people know that other units have gone home, I didn’t do it. It has to be at the discretion of the dean or the vice president responsible for that school or department, not me. The dean or vice president has to authorize a flexible work schedule for that day and then you use your usual leave process to request and report time off. So there might be a perception that people in a particular unit have gone home early and I sanction that as long as the rules are followed. But it isn’t Universitywide.
Q: Are there any plans to allow for a possible paperless submission of travel authorization for authorized University travel? This seems to be long overdue.
The campus implemented a new electronic travel request and expense reimbursement system with a pilot group of departments just this past July. Implementation for the entire campus is targeted for late October so you will be hearing more about this.
Anybody want to add something?
Kathy Byington, vice president for administration and finance: The pilot went well. The people who have used it are pleased with the system. It allows you to electronically fill out your travel request and reimbursement request and rout it through the system. It provides the employee and supervisor a complete online way of tracking where things are in the system. We’ve been pleased with it so far and we’re excited to see it go across campus.
Q: I was told by my supervisor when traveling for business I can’t get reimbursed for any tolls that my E-ZPass pays since a receipt is an issue. I offered to bring in my monthly EZPass statement and was told this still would not be acceptable. It seems a bit ludicrous since E-ZPass is administered by the state and we are a state agency. Is that still the case or did my supervisor misinform me?
Yes, travelers must attach detailed receipts to support expenses. In general, statements are not considered detailed enough. But in the case of tolls that are paid using the E-ZPass system, the details of the statement are itemized enough to support the expense so they can be used in place of a receipt.
Q: Why doesn’t the University change the policy and process to allow for University-related business travel, particularly hotels, to be charged to ProCard. There are checks and balances already in place to avoid misuse. Right now staff who don’t have credit cards or can’t charge on them for various reasons are prohibited from traveling unless a hotel takes a purchase order. Most hotels do not.
In checking with Financial Services, I am told we have recently implemented a new process for audit review of key card transactions. The system internal auditor has reviewed our key card process in purchasing and compliance in follow-up to the legislative audit of two years ago and found that despite improvements we still have more work to do. So I’m going to ask Financial Services to retain this suggestion and consider it once we have the necessary improvements in place to be compliant.
Q: I work in the Lexington Building and sometimes my colleagues and I come in on a Saturday to catch up or get ahead on a project. We have to pay to park on the street as our garage, the Saratoga Garage, is closed. The closest open garage is the Grand. We have an open-air parking lot right beside our building. Could we have a gate with a badge scanner installed there so we could use that lot or is there another solution?
There is another solution that I personally am familiar with. Since I sometimes like to come in on a Saturday or a Sunday to the Saratoga Building and there is a garage that I use since I can’t use Saratoga and that is the Lexington Garage, which is just down the street on Lexington. It is “students only” during the week, which may have caused this confusion, but on weekends it is open to anyone who needs parking on that part of the campus. And that garage is open and staffed 24/7.
Q: In the FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) policy there are provisions for immediate family. However, there is nothing in there for taking care of a roommate or partner. Can you look at implementing acceptance for someone in your household who you care for who has a disease? My roommate has cancer, stage 4, and there’s nothing to cover this because she’s not in my family though we have lived together for 17 years.
FMLA is a federal statute that USM follows. Currently FMLA does not grant coverage for domestic partners and same-sex relationships. The law would need to be changed. We’re bound to follow the laws that govern our division.
Q: How is it that there are salary increases for faculty and not staff? I’m a bit tired of hearing salary increases are not available when some of us know that increases have been granted for others within our school. I understand budget constraints are an issue. But then give us other perks that don’t backfire on us. Don’t allow us to do a flexible schedule over the summer and then take it away in the fall.
Our University is operating under a single set of guidelines for compensation of faculty and staff as issued by the system and in compliance with current state law. And those guidelines no matter who it is do not allow an increase in the employee’s total salary except in case of promotion or a special exception for retention of critical faculty or staff. According to policy, we’re not allowed to give raises. I’m not defending it; I’m just restating the policy.
Q: I know you are a big proponent of civility. I was maybe a half-block from the Saratoga Garage when I saw a man enter the door and let it close on a woman carrying an infant she had just picked up from daycare. The woman, who was maybe two or three steps behind the man, had to adjust her hold on her baby to free a hand to open the door. As it turned out, the three of us shared the elevator. When the woman got off, it was just me and the man who didn’t hold the door. Which would have been more civil? Me saying something to the man for not holding the door or me saying nothing?
First I compliment you on being a gentleman. I don’t think it’s so much challenging people, unless they are challenging you, as setting a good example. If people are going to change, they will only change from seeing people like you and me and everybody else who cares about this setting the right example.
Q: Where do things stand on the Westside Advisory Committee and also just general improvements? I know we got an email the other day saying that Panera Bread is coming and another email about Lexington Market and patrols. It seems like the pace is picking up, but I just wondered if you could summarize it for us.
Well, thank you for saying that, particularly your remark that the pace is picking up. Your question is very timely. After this meeting I go and join the mayor in our quarterly meeting of the Westside Task Force. The pace is picking up, but it is never as fast as we would like it to be. But the fact that as a result of the Urban Land Institute consultation and the formation of a broad-based task force getting as many stakeholders as possible into the same room from private developers to city officials to state officials to the University, there is an effort to improve the common good for all of us on the Westside.
I think we’re all in agreement we need to do something to improve Lexington Market. If you are a business owner on the Westside, a developer on the Westside, University people, residents, I can’t imagine someone not saying. ‘Let’s make the Lexington Market better.’ Thank you for this question. I think it’s very important for the University to help support and create a vibrant, healthy Westside.
Q: How do I find information about reporting an ethics violation in my administrative unit?
There are several ways. And again you can do it anonymously, you can do it confidentially. There are fraud hotlines that have been established. The campus has a new hotline for reporting fraud and ethics violations. It’s run by an outside vendor called Ethics Point. We have a USM internal audit hotline. These are all posted on the website. The important point I think for this audience and for whoever asked this question is you should not sit back when you think something is being done that is wrong.
Q: There are two flagpoles on the east side of the University plaza that have not had flags flying on them for quite a while. Is there a reason why the U.S. and state flag are not being put up anymore?
They are now up, I saw them yesterday. Sometimes the flags need to be replaced due to normal wear and tear. We try to keep spare flags on hand, but sometimes there is a lapse. Be assured there is no lack of commitment here about flying the colors.
Q: I know the electric bill is a major issue for the University. But at night and on weekends I see many, many lights on in empty labs and buildings. Could we regroup our efforts to turn off some of those lights and reduce the bill?
I appreciate this question and it is indicative of many around our campus about the importance of thinking green. I think everyone should be vigilant about turning off lights. There are occupancy sensors in various buildings in corridors and offices or auditoriums. There is a master lighting program that controls this, but the questioner is absolutely right. It’s fair to say we still have a long way to go.
Bob Rowan, associate vice president for facilities and operations: Our newer buildings have automation, but some of our older ones do not so as we update buildings we add automatic controls. Some occupants do not like sensors; they do not like to have to walk into a dark space; they don’t like the delay. When they’re sitting in their office and not moving, the lights go out. So there are various issues and we’ll be moving forward on that.
Q: I’m writing concerning a building called the Grace and Hope mission on Greene Street. Since it’s not currently being used, may I make a suggestion? Is there any possibility of utilizing this building for a field placement work site providing the homeless around the University a place to seek comfort and hope? Maybe if the VA joined the University and our schools we could help people in need.
You have to admire the thought. In talking with leadership here, I think we would definitely consider the building for a placement program, but we have not yet received a proposal from one of our campus schools for such a program. If someone feels strongly about it, they should come forward with a proposal.
Q: Since the summer earthquake has a master plan been developed? During the earthquake we were made to evacuate and were standing outside for an hour and a half. After the fact we heard we probably would have been safer staying in the buildings and were at more risk standing outside.
Dr. Perman: We tried to learn from this remarkable experience. I’ll let Bob expand on this.
Bob Rowan, associate vice president for facilities and operations: The University did not have an earthquake policy prior to this. It was seen as such a low likelihood event that we didn’t bother planning for it. Since then we are drafting a plan that probably will recommend ‘shelter in place’ because you are right it doesn’t make sense to evacuate. You’re safer inside. What happened on that day, however, was that many people pulled fire alarms, making evacuation mandatory. We didn’t do a good job of training people in what to do, but we will improve in the future.