Straight talk on classified staff
Sandridge discusses salaries, retirement, health
On a recent chilly February
morning, Leonard W. Sandridge blew into an Employee Council meeting
like a March wind and proceeded to deliver some straight talk
in response to 50 questions that had been posed in advance by
the representatives of the Provost’s Employee Communications
Council. What follows are highlights from Sandridge’s remarks:
What is the new partnership with the state?
The new partnership was designed to reduce pressure on the state
budget and to ensure the quality of higher education in the Commonwealth.
To that end, the University of Virginia, William & Mary, and
Virginia Tech, over the next year, will ask the General Assembly
to enact the “Commonwealth Chartered Universities and Colleges
Act.” The legislation would create a process for chartering
state-assisted, public universities and colleges.
Under the new model, the state would limit its financial appropriations
to the universities to less than what would traditionally be expected.
In exchange, the universities would no longer be subject to certain
state personnel, procurement and capital-project regulations.
I know many people are concerned that the new partnership will
sever all ties to the state. This is not so.
Each university will remain a public institution with boards appointed
by the Governor, confirmed by the General Assembly and accountable
to the state’s citizens for, among other things, performance
measures, audit reports and a strong commitment to undergraduate
Why do we need this?
There are five Employee Communication Councils representing
the University’s nonfaculty workforce of nearly 9,000.
• Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer
Employee Communication Council
• Health System Academic and Research
Employee Communication Council
Helen Norfleet-Shiflett, firstname.lastname@example.org,
Johanna Podraza, email@example.com,
• Medical Center Employee Communication Council (45
Chairwoman: Gloria Smith
• Provost Employee Communication Council
Jo Ann Addison
• Student Affairs Employee Communication Council (16
For more details on the work of the councils, visit www.hrs.virginia.edu/facstfcoun.html.
the past decade, the University has been working to increase its
flexibility and local authority through numerous decentralization
measures. This most recent step — through chartered legislation
— is not revolutionary, but is the logical next step given
the fact that the state now contributes only 8.1 percent of our
budget — down from 27 percent in the early 1990s.
What we’re proposing is that the state allow us to build
on our strengths and to expect more of Virginia Tech, William
& Mary and U.Va. than it does of other schools that don’t
have the infrastructure to handle making important business decisions
at the local level.
Basically, what we’re asking for is the authority to increase
There are three things we need to do to keep the University healthy:
1) become more of a tuition-based institution; 2) become second
to none when it comes to raising private funds; and 3) forge
a new relationship with the Commonwealth of Virginia that allows
us to take advantage of No.1 and No. 2.
What will the impact of the new partnership be on employees?
Salaries? Well, for one, the Board of Visitors will have the authority
to implement salary increases for classified employees. In October,
the board would have liked to give pay raises to all University
employees, but was not allowed to. But it looked for other ways
to reward classified employees, earmarking $250,000 for targeted
increases based on market studies and another $200,000 to help
fund the rewards and recognition program that the state created
but was never able to fund.
Procurement? Nothing will change. All audit and compliance regulations
will remain the same, and we’ll continue to report to the
state auditor of public accounts.
In an aside, Sandridge recounted how a recent visit by the state
auditor resulted in a report to the board that strongly endorsed
the state’s confidence in how well the University is managed.
He noted that such news is a credit to the good work of all University
Tuition? The board plans to hold itself and the University accountable
for responsible tuition. Also, we never talk about tuition without
talking about access, and the University has a firm commitment
to making the University affordable for all students [such as
through Access UVa, a groundbreaking financial aid initiative
to ensure a U.Va. undergraduate education to any student accepted,
regardless of economic circumstance].
Retirement benefits? We will not take away the opportunity to
invest in the VRS from any employee, and we may provide additional
retirement options for employees.
Health Insurance? The University already is the only state institution
in the Commonwealth that has its own health insurance plan. And
it is committed to making it of a higher quality and better cost
than the state plan.
In an effort to keep costs reasonable for employees, in the past
year, the University’s contribution to employee health care
increased by 30 percent, while the employee contribution increased
by only 5 percent.
Grievance procedures? This seems to crop up as a big issue with
many people, but there is no reason to change the system that
is now in place because it is working.
Layoffs? All you need to do is look around the state to see where
layoffs were made during recent tough economic times. Not one
state employee was laid off at the University of Virginia. Layoffs
are not part of our institutional culture. In fact, one of our
highest priorities is to avoid laying people off.
The University’s Board of Visitors strongly believes that
it’s good business to invest in its employees.
What is the University plan for enrollment growth?
We have no plans for large enrollment growth, although the rumor
persists. Our plan is to grow by some 500 students between now
and the next six to seven years. The board has made it clear that
it is not eager to become a larger university.
Further out, I could see us adding 1,500 students in targeted
areas like the sciences, business and the arts. To become truly
world class, we might need to look at growth there.
Would the University ever consider granting benefits to
domestic partners of employees?
This is an increasingly important issue, and we have been involved
in these discussions. Right now, these benefits break into two
categories: some are the function of state oversight, and the
Attorney General has ruled to prohibit health insurance to those
other than couples married under Virginia law; others are what
are called soft benefits, like memberships to intramural facilities.
A lot of private institutions have dealt with these questions,
and public universities are in a period of change. We are looking
at institutions that have addressed the issue. We need to recognize
that this is both an emotional and a practical issue for some
members of our community.
Partnership with state:
To learn more about the proposed partnership between U.Va. and
the Commonwealth of Virginia, and to follow future developments,