Recommendations from the Academic Staff Executive Committee for the HR Design Phase I Work Groups

The Academic Staff Executive Committee (ASEC) has provided S&W with a document with the following title: Recommendations from the Academic Staff Executive Committee for the HR Design Phase I Work Groups, dated  April 27, 2012.   The original PDF document is here.   The content has been transcribed below for the convenience of S&W readers.  Transcription errors are possible.  In case of doubt, please refer to the original document.  – Ed.


The Academic Staff Executive Committee (ASEC) has spent the recent weeks reviewing the Preliminary Recommendations of the HR Design Phase I work groups. For the purpose of this review, we primarily concentrated on issues that would affect academic staff but also commented on other issues that we found in the documents. Before we go into individual work team recommendations, we have some overarching comments. These concern the lack of data upon which recommendations were based, the considerable investment of money and other resources that implementation of the recommendations would take, and the effects of the recommendations on academic staff.

First, many of the reports do not include data upon which the teams’ recommendations were based. While data will likely play a larger role as we begin to decide on the details, even at this stage we were often wondering what data drove many of the conclusions and resulting recommendations. For instance, how did the Benefits Team decide on the number of hours of vacation they recommend for new employees? Did the Employee Categories Team identify the types of employee categories at our peer institutions? Why did the Titling Team suggest that only four promotional levels would be sufficient? How many waivers of open recruitment are granted each year? Data that supports or lends a historical background to these recommendations would be very useful. Such data would help audiences understand the recommendations that have been proposed, which in turn would help us better evaluate the rationale or justification for those recommendations. Finally, such data also would help the university evaluate the effects of implementing the current recommendations.

When looking at the report recommendations in total, it is clear that implementing these recommendations would take an extremely large resource investment by the UW-Madison. This investment must take the form of additional personnel in human resources offices as well as other new resources to support these offices. Furthermore, several of the changes will need oversight by various governance groups, including ASEC and others. In order for many of the recommendations to succeed, they have to be fully implemented with fully staffed offices to handle the additional workload. For instance, if we want to have a market-based salary system, then we need a fully staffed and supported office to create and maintain the market data for both classified and academic staff as currently defined. Without this, only those titles with easy comparables through CUPA or other resources will have market-driven salaries, while the rest would be left out.

ASEC is extremely concerned about the sacrifices that academic staff are being asked to make, as compared to other employee groups, in these recommendations. If fully implemented, the proposed recommendations would provide new academic staff with a smaller compensation package than new academic staff receive today. Current academic staff will lose out as well: they will be adversely affected by less vacation carry-over and a diluted voice in governance. While there are certainly items that will benefit academic staff, such as the ability to bank vacation earlier and a slight increase in sick leave, the overall package does not give as much to academic staff (both current and future) as it asks them to give up. In an era when academic staff have been waiting for more than four years to receive any type of raise, and when annual incomes for academic staff continue to decline, ASEC believes that it is unfair to ask academic staff to give up much more of what they are currently earning. On balance, this set of recommendations is asking for just that.

Last but not least, many of the reports reference the so-called “caste” system on campus. ASEC is concerned about this choice of words, which appears to have been made without regard for the cultural meaning of the term “caste,” which refers to structural inequalities and a system in which people are born into a certain level from which they cannot move. We suggest the use of another, more appropriate term to describe the UW-Madison climate, such as “classism” or “behavioral hierarchy.” ASEC recognizes that serious climate issues exist on this campus in this regard, and that these issues daily affect how people feel about their jobs and about the UW. We do not seek to minimize the impact of these behaviors and attitudes. However, we do urge the work teams to use other words to describe this aspect of climate and perhaps even to review ways that their proposals can address these underlying class-related climate issues.

In addition to the comments we have offered each work team below, you are welcome to browse the Academic Staff Assembly listserv ( where there has been much discussion about some of these issues.


  1. Benefits are part of a compensation package. The recommendations put forth by the Benefits Team will reduce total compensation, which includes salary/wages and benefits. All full-time, 12-month employees should start with 212 hours (176 vacation hours + 36 hours of personal holiday), and vacation amounts should be amplified from this point. The current proposal creates negative equity for all employees.
  2. Our benefit package is a recruitment tool, particularly in difficult times; sometimes benefits speak more to potential hires, and even to continuing employees, than money. ASEC would like to see the data upon which the Benefits Team based its recommendations that reduce the benefit package for many new and continuing employees. It should be noted that newly employed academic staff will lose nearly 52 hours of vacation/personal time under this proposal. Children attending MMSD have 16 days of vacation that do not coincide with the UW’s current holiday schedule, which means a single parent would have four days of vacation left (after caring for her/his child when local schools are not in session).
  3. Please provide more explanation of the following:
    • Regarding the phrase “end the ability to ‘cash out’ vacation,” it is not clear to whom this would apply. Is this for classified or unclassified staff, and what are the financial implications?
    • Why is the team recommending changing the basis for unclassified staff leave
      reporting from two-hour increments to 60-minute increments? The ramifications, both positive and negative, of recommending a change in the current policy are unclear. Given that the change from hourly reporting to the current structure occurred just a few years ago, why is the team recommending the UW change back?
    • Why has a cap on banking leave been recommended? Such caps penalize employees for doing their work—work obligations do not always allow people to use their allotted vacation time, and one should not lose out on benefits for being a conscientious employee or for working in a role that severely constrains the use of vacation time. In addition, the current lack of a cap allows employees to have flexibility for dealing with life events such as birth/adoption, health issues, and family care.
  4. Academic staff are strongly in favor of tuition benefits for employees and dependents as well as paid parental leave, and we would like to see tuition benefits and parental leave addressed in the final draft. Sabbatical leave also needs to be addressed for academic staff. Many academic staff positions require the same level of renewal as that needed by faculty to reflect the current knowledge in their work.


  1. ASEC recommends that a board/committee appointed by governance and comprised of academic staff, faculty, and other stakeholders be created to advise campus leadership regarding policies of the proposed compensation analysis office. While ASEC understands that market factors may weigh similar jobs in different disciplines differently (i.e., arts vs. sciences), ASEC recommends that a reasonable basement rate be established that may differ from the market for that particular job.
  2. The report is unclear regarding which markets could or would be considered in a market-based compensation structure. These markets need to be carefully defined. ASEC recommends that campus have a discussion regarding how much this market would include private sector employment as compared to other institutions of higher education.
  3. A correction is required on page 13 regarding Compensation Drivers listed under Time Limited Pay Adjustments: Current federal law prohibits giving a pay adjustment for “winning an extramural grant.”
  4. A correction is required on page 10 in the seventh bullet: By current state statute, academic staff and faculty are prevented from being compensated based upon performance.
  5. Years of experience with satisfactory or better performance should be taken into consideration for compensation.


The Competencies Team’s recommendations are generally creative and represent an approach that seems to be mindful of a variety of considerations, including attracting and retaining the best possible staff, academic and classified. However, there are significant issues with the report, including some basic, foundational information, such as definitions. On page two of its draft report, the team defines competencies as the following:

Competencies are identified knowledge, skills, abilities, and mindsets, evaluated through demonstrated behaviors, which directly and positively contribute to the success of the organization and to the success of employees in their job role, position, and function.

  • Knowledge: what you are aware of; information known within a content area typically from facts or experience
  • Skills: the how-to’s of a role; doing physical or mental tasks; capabilities that can be transferred from one person to another
  • Ability: being able to or having the potential to perform; sometimes used interchangeably with talent
  • Mindset: attitudes, beliefs, values, perceptions, etc. that are demonstrated in behavior

ASEC has identified the following issues with this definition:

  1. Postsecondary education is neither a consideration nor is it even explicitly stated as a foundation for any of the competencies required to do one’s job at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Even the definition of “knowledge” does not seem to allow for the fact that a postsecondary education may have provided a person with at least some of the knowledge and skills needed to do a job at UW–Madison.
  2. Related to this, there are no references to certifications, credentials and/or degrees that are required of many UW–Madison employees. Should competencies be used as a complement to other achievements of the best-qualified staff (e.g., degrees, certifications and credentials)?
  3. The use of the term “mindsets” is problematic in that an employer in general can only require certain behaviors of its employees and cannot require employees to have particular “attitudes, beliefs, values, perceptions, etc.” that may affect those behaviors. ASEC is concerned that use of this term could lead to hiring and retaining only those who are “like us” (“us” being the hiring and evaluative authorities), thereby potentially reducing campus diversity and reinforcing power and privilege structures/systems. We also are concerned that this competency could lead to inappropriate questions during the interview process.
  4. In general, ASEC found the definition of “competencies” to be rather vague and is concerned the lack of widespread and consistent understanding of competencies may therefore lead to different applications among different groups of university employees. Information on the source of the design team’s definitions would be useful to campus understanding.
  5. A competencies-based approach to all stages of the employee life cycle is a laudable goal, but the report does not indicate where this should begin or what a logical set of steps is for getting to this goal. ASEC suggests beginning with annual performance assessments for all faculty and staff that incorporate “core competencies that reflect the mission, vision, and values of the UW–Madison and which apply to all employees.”
  6. The report uses the word “employees,” but it is unclear whether this includes faculty as well. The report should be more explicit about the inclusion of faculty in its recommendations.

Diverse Workforce

  1. Include a specific recommendation—either on its own or stated more prominently within the text of Recommendation #4—that resources and staff be dedicated to the assessment of diversity and climate efforts. The report alludes to this but does not make it prominent. Millions of dollars are spent on diversity efforts on this campus but, as the team’s report indicates, little evidence is gathered as to their effectiveness. We would add that efforts to implement assessment are often met with resistance and viewed as threats to diversity initiatives rather than attempts at improvement. A true focus on assessment is needed to inform the most efficient use of resources in enhancing the diversity of UW’s workforce. This recommendation could refer to the examples of the different types of data that need to be collected (already listed under Open Questions on p.13).
  2. Consider whether to recommend improvements in the coordination of all campus units listed on p.4. While efforts have been made to consolidate these units under the umbrella of one division, decentralization still is identified as a problem in achieving diversity goals. An examination of ways to enhance the coordination of all units, whether under or outside of the divisional umbrella, is a potential solution.
  3. Specify whether the team recommends that climate training be mandatory for employees and supervisors or just available (see p.9).
  4. Be more specific as to what constitutes “accountability.” It is unclear whether the team views accountability as the use of actual goals and metrics, the documentation of success and progress, or some other set of measures. Without clarification as to how efforts will be measured, the mention of “sanctions” and “negative consequences in terms of compensation” for unit leaders who fail to promote a good campus climate are difficult to interpret.
  5. Regarding the team’s definition of diversity:
    • ASEC recommends replacing “psychosocial” with “cognitive.” It is our understanding that the inclusion of “psychosocial” is intended to reflect the need for intellectual diversity on our campus; however, “cognitive” diversity more accurately describes this need and leaves less room for falling into the trap of hiring “those who think like us.”
    • Appendix 1: “Elements of Diversity” is an admirable, comprehensive effort. We ask the team to also reference and consider adding elements discussed in the Provost’s Office document entitled “Faculty Diversity and Excellence: A Compelling University Interest” [PDF], as it represents a foundation for defining diversity on campus.

Employee Categories

Executive Summary

ASEC has a wide variety of detailed comments and suggestions for this work team (see Detailed Summary). ASEC’s primary response, however, is to strongly recommend that the work team abandon their initial primary recommendation of “Collapsing all Classified staff into a single large category of Academic Staff” in favor of advocating a modified Alternative #1 (as referenced in HR Design DRAFT Recommendations). ASEC would support Alternative #1 as presented in the draft if the following six conditions were met:

  1. Consult with current classified staff regarding a new name for their group.
  2. Current classified staff with exempt status must be consulted and provided the choice of joining the academic staff or remaining within the newly defined classified staff category.
  3. Ensure that members of the current classified staff employee category are eventually provided statutory governance rights equal to those currently extended to faculty, academic staff, and students at the university. While statutory rights should be the final goal, change of statute is not a necessary precondition for such rights to be extended; it could be accomplished by changing institutional policy and practice.
  4. Should full collective bargaining rights be restored in Wisconsin, ensure that all employees, whether academic or former classified staff, have the option of union or governance representation in matters related to personnel policies and procedures— but not both.
  5. Use suggestions from the Titling, Compensation and Benefits teams to address current inequities and barriers to advancement.
  6. Make a documented effort to obtain, analyze, and assess data that would predict the likely intended and unintended consequences of structural changes in employee categories at the university.


Detailed Summary

Following a thorough review and consultation with a range of individuals and governance groups on campus, ASEC concluded that it cannot support the primary recommendation from the Employee Categories Team to combine all current classified staff and academic staff into a single, large category of “academic staff.” Rather than providing a point-by-point response to the draft recommendation and overall report, ASEC determined the best course of action is to forward support for an alternate recommendation—either for a modest restructuring of the university’s current employee category structure or for no change in the employee category structure at all. It is likely that a number of the concerns and workplace/climate issues raised in the report could actually be addressed outside of any need to modify the employee category structure at the institution. The bullet points below briefly review ASEC’s major concerns with the team’s initial recommendation and outline those specific modifications we believe would create a more data-driven employee categories recommendation that most campus parties could support.

Our primary objection to the Employee Categories Team’s draft report can be summarized as a concern about the lack of empirical evidence (data) for the existence, scope, or strength of campus support for the “issues” it presents and a similar lack of evidence for how the recommendation (a major structural change to the employee categories at the institution) would solve or ameliorate those issues. A concerted and systematic effort should be made to obtain, analyze, and assess data that could predict both the intended and potentially unintended consequences of any structural changes in employee classification at the university, including the alternative recommendation proposed below. Other concerns with this proposal are as follows:

  • ASEC is greatly concerned with the implication of the report’s proposed recommendation, that currently represented classified staff would lose, without consultation and without consent, their collective bargaining rights. Academic staff currently do not have collective bargaining rights, and state law would have to be changed for academic staff to get these rights. While the collective bargaining rights of classified staff have been curtailed by current state law, those rights still exist and, in fact, courts have recently ruled against the parts of that law that require annual recertification and prohibit employers from withholding union dues from paychecks. ASEC members also worry that the Employee Categories Team underplayed or perhaps did not consider what we believe to be potential major political and cultural consequences of their recommendation; that is, the political, media, and public good- will ramifications of even appearing to further disempower or alienate current represented classified staff by effectively removing their future ability to collectively bargain.
  • In 2010 some unions initiated efforts of unit clarification for an array of academic staff positions throughout the UW System. (This means that those academic staff could have been put into a union without their having had the opportunity to vote on union representation.) Due to this history, ASEC is concerned that, should current classified staff and academic staff be fully merged and state law to be changed in the future to give academic staff collective bargaining rights, the labor unions could once again initiate calls for unit clarification, and academic staff could be put into a labor union without their consultation and without their consent. Furthermore, ASEC is concerned that creating one employee category could lead to a single bargaining unit created for all academic staff, leading to the possibility of current academic staff becoming unionized even though there has historically been little interest in this. These concerns are not unfounded given the recent unit clarification effort noted above by some unions. Until better evidence becomes available and is presented, and given the acknowledged and unknown issues almost certainly entailed by the current draft recommendation, ASEC strongly urges that the primary Employee Categories Team draft recommendation be withdrawn. While a close reading of the current report might suggest the best course was to “change nothing,” ASEC believes that the report already contains the outline of a middle course.

ASEC Alternative Recommendation

Given the concerns and issues outlined above, ASEC proposes an alternative employee categories recommendation. This recommendation builds upon “Alternative #1,” which, as described in the Employee Categories Team’s report, would maintain the academic staff as currently configured and bring into the academic staff category those classified staff at the institution who are currently exempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

ASEC recommends that classified staff who are currently non-exempt could form a new employee category. Current classified staff should decide on the name for this new employee category. Current exempt classified staff must be consulted and provided the choice of joining the academic staff (and losing collective bargaining rights) or remaining within the former classified staff category. Members of the former classified staff employee category must be provided statutory governance rights equal to those currently extended to faculty, academic staff, and students at the university. Change of statute is not a necessary precondition for such rights to be extended prior to statutory change, it could be done directly by changing institutional policy and practice. Should full collective bargaining rights be restored in the state, former classified and academic staff would be given the choice of either governance or union/collective bargaining representation and voice (not both), thereby ensuring that all employees (whether academic or former classified staff) have the option of union/collective bargaining or governance representation.

ASEC believes the Alternative #1 Employee Category recommendation would

  • Provide maximum flexibility for employees should collective bargaining be restored in the future;
  • Allow for extension of governance rights to all employees at the institution;
  • Minimize the impact on and disruption of current academic staff governance practices, policies, and procedures (which are highly functional and effective and are the result of decades of effort, thought, rigorous debate, and careful consideration);
  • Ensure that all employees at the institution are provided voice through either governance processes or collective bargaining (should collective bargaining be restored to fuller form in the future);
  • Reduce class distinctions among employee groups by ensuring governance rights are extended to all employees and that governance bodies reflect the nature of the work, the nature of the work experience, and workplace challenges/issues for the staff members represented by their respective governance bodies;
  • Allow use of suggestions from the Titling, Compensation, Benefits, and Performance Management Teams to address current inequities and barriers to advancement; and
  • Ensure that a concerted and systematic effort would be made to obtain, analyze, and assess data that would predict both the intended and potentially unintended consequences of any structural changes in employee categorization at the university, including but not limited to the alternative recommendation proposed here.

ASEC would be glad to meet with university administrators, HR Design Work Teams and staff, and the Employee Categories Team leadership to share and discuss their review of this draft recommendation if desired. ASEC encourages the HR Design Project leadership and Employee Categories Team to obtain and utilize data from the institution to provide support and justification for any subsequent employee categories recommendations that may be made, including the one we have proposed.

Recruitment and Assessment

  1. An online application system is a great tool for the majority of our applicants. However, there are still significant numbers of people who may not have easy access to the Internet. We must provide alternatives for those without this access.
  2. Recruitment represents the primary way to increase employee diversity on campus, but diversity did not appear to be seriously addressed in this report. UW–Madison needs to take steps to ensure we make every attempt to find, hire, and retain candidates who bring a range of experiences and identities to the university community. There are many ways to work towards increasing our diversity. For example, PVLs should be carefully crafted to include elements such as “demonstrated experience working with diverse groups of people” or “demonstrated capacity to work with people from a variety of countries and cultures.”
  3. ASEC recommends mandatory training for all members of hiring committees. This would include guidance on asking appropriate interview questions, steering away from our internal biases, etc. For instance, Dean Gary Sandefur requires that those serving on interview committees in the College of Letters and Science attend WISELI training for search committees.
  4. While ASEC is not opposed to all internal hiring and recruitment, we do believe that it should be used sparingly and only in specific instances. The following areas need careful consideration because of their possible impact on our community:
    • Diversity: As a historically white-dominated campus, the internal hire option promotes hiring from within an organization that will not increase the diversity of our staff.
    • Other institutional models: The MATC model and other institutional models should be examined to determine how this practice impacts their community and whether there are lessons that UW–Madison can learn from their internal hiring experiences.
    • Cronyism: Often, internal recruiting supports hiring one’s friends instead of hiring the best candidates.
    • Eligibility: The report states that those who were terminated or whose position was eliminated are eligible for an internal hire for one year. Employees who were terminated for performance issues and employees who do not pass their probation should not be considered for internal hire. Only employees whose position was eliminated due to budgetary constraints or program redirection and not for performance issues should be considered for internal hire.
    • University service: University service of not less than three to five years should be an eligibility requirement for internal recruiting. Internal hiring should be used for employees with a track record of at least acceptable or at best excellent performance reviews.
  5. In regard to references to “competencies,” the use of the term “mindsets” is problematic in that an employer in general can only require certain behaviors of its employees and cannot require employees to have particular “attitudes, beliefs, values, perceptions, etc.” that may affect those behaviors. The use of “mindsets” in a competency-based system could also lead to hiring and retaining only those who are “like us” (“us” being the hiring and evaluative authorities), thereby potentially reducing campus diversity and reinforcing power and privilege structures/systems at the institution. We also are concerned that the use of the mindset as a competency could lead to inappropriate questions during the interview process.
  6. For direct hiring (page 7), “Other” is listed as an eligibility category. This should be more clearly defined or, more likely, eliminated. Additional legitimate exceptions can be added in the future should the need arise. In addition, the category of rehired annuitants should be annotated to conform with the current rehired annuitant policy.
  7. While the recruitment recommendations are extremely fleshed out and detailed, the assessment recommendations are less so. ASEC would like to see more details in the assessment piece.


  1. ASEC supports the recommendation that the university undertake a job classification study structured around functional areas (“job families”), and ASEC stresses that many of the acknowledged issues, questions and grey areas reported in the draft could be much more fully addressed with empirical data.
  2. ASEC believes the draft is uneven and confusing in its explanation of how flexibility would solve current titling, compensation, and advancement issues. The draft needs more clarification and on how we could institute flexibility in compensation while at the same time building a unified, campus-wide set of rules and categories (job families, levels, and working descriptions). Further, no evidence was offered as to why broad- banding would not work except that it might promote variability (that is, flexibility), which paradoxically is the team’s most desired quality in a new system.
  3. ASEC believes the draft recommendations purposefully avoid the important “job title” issue of the direct overlap between duties and responsibilities (research, teaching and grant acquisition, management and fulfillment) by faculty and Category B staff such as scientists, researchers, and lecturers.
  4. ASEC believes the draft fails to address the reality that, by design, the current and recommended HR system embraces titling limits. Critically, those limits create compensation limits, which in turn lead to compensation stagnation (i.e., situations in which individuals have no compensation-related promotional opportunities available). Stagnation occurs internally when talent and high performance demand early career promotion and when market competition requires top-of-the-range compensation to retain or recruit top talent. In both cases structural limits to compensation create an environment that limits the university’s ability to retain or recruit seasoned, talented individuals with significant stores of intellectual and/or institutional capital in favor of early and mid-career employees.
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One Response to Recommendations from the Academic Staff Executive Committee for the HR Design Phase I Work Groups

  1. Denny says:

    I would like to thank the work team members for investing so much of their time over the last 4 and a half months devising these recommendations.

    Some of the hurdles that the work teams faced were timeline, presentation, support and moral.

    The short timeline has necessitated many work team members volunteering 10% to 20% of there time during the work week for meetings over the last 3 or 4 months. Additionally, they needed to spend time outside of those meetings to review information(data) that is still being delivered from the consultants and campus feedback, while still performing their job on campus.

    The business case template provided by project leadership or Huron was not the optimal way to present the details of the recommendations to campus. It was cumbersome and repetitive. The work teams have spent a lot of time fleshing out these recommendations so including more details of the rational and examples of how they see things working would be very helpful. I suspect that the teams have discussed in great detail most aspects that are being presented as feedback. Unfortunately, #1, they can’t list every conversation they’ve ever had on the case study, and #2, with the cases so dense and repetitive, it is easy to overlook some of the details that show they discussed these aspects.

    I heard complaints about problems of having enough support for work teams to get data they wanted from project leadership or Huron in a timely matter or until it was too late. One of ASECs complaints was they would of liked to see more data but collecting data takes a long time which isn’t available. For the work teams further time, unfortunately, is not available. It may be time for governance groups to ask for this data collection and ensure it is obtained.

    After the phase 1 recommendations were released work teams were given less than a month to obtain feedback and incorporate suggestions. This put a lot of pressure on everyone to review and submit feedback as quickly as possible. Given that the work teams didn’t have a lot of time to review lengthy feedback many of us kept feedback brief and focused on the things we wanted fixed rather then identify all the elements about the case studies that we liked and wanted to ensure was preserved. Seeing all the negative feedback and not much positive feedback on something that so much time has been invested has to be demoralizing.

    It is great seeing campus so engaged and able to provide feedback on all of the recommendations being put forth.

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