April 06, 2010

New A/P council chair encourages participation

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill -- In tough times, having good access to solid information is invaluable. Leaders of one of the constituency groups at Southern Illinois University Carbondale want to encourage staff members to take advantage of its services.

The Administrative and Professional Staff Council -- A/P Staff Council for short -- is a long-time staff body that represents and communicates the views, interests and concerns of about 750 administrative and professional workers at SIUC and the SIU School of Medicine to the chancellor, SIU president and SIU Board of Trustees as they relate to the University’s mission. The council, which promotes personal and professional growth for its members, also serves as pipeline of information, which A/P workers can rely upon, said J.P. Dunn, chair of the A/P Staff Council.

“We provide a voice for the A/P staff,” Dunn said. “All our council staff is available for questions if our constituents need information or clarification about issues. And we help squash rumors, when they occur, by providing accurate information.”

Along with Vice Chair Jon Geiger and Secretary Sharon Walters, Dunn leads the council in its efforts to represent A/P staff members. The council does so through a variety of means, including recommending A/P staff members to serve on the many University committees and boards, staying in touch with its constituency, reviewing benefits and other employment issues, among others.

The council is also a nexus for timely, accurate information, serving members through two e-mail list-serves, Dunn said. One list is a basic announcement list on which all A/P staff members automatically are included when they are hired. The other is a voluntary discussion and information service, which provides links and information for a broader range of topics that affect A/P employees.

“I’d like to see the numbers of participants on that list rise,” Dunn said, adding that he posts links to statewide and national news stories, legislative news and other information on the site regularly. To sign up, visit the council’s Web site at http://apstaff.siuc.edu/index.html.

Dunn, who is in his third, three-year term on the council, became chair in March after the former chair, Jake Baggott, resigned the position. Baggott, who will remain on the council, recently was named assistant to the chancellor.

Dunn, a specialist with library affairs and administrator of the University’s Blackboard computer instruction service, said A/P staff fill many niches at SIUC and the SIU School of Medicine.

“We are a large and diverse group with varied job functions ranging from researchers to scientists to specialists,” he said. “Some A/P staff are directors and coordinators and, technically, all administration falls under the A/P heading.

“All groups on campus are important to fulfilling the University’s mission. A/P staff have their own specialties and they make a tremendous contribution, both in research and service,” he said.

Dunn said he hopes to meet regularly with the chancellor and with SIU President Glenn Poshard, as well as attend board of trustees meetings. He said meeting with top administration is important to promoting two-way communication, gathering information from them and letting them know about the A/P point of view.

With money tight at SIUC and all other public universities around the state, Dunn said keeping information flowing freely is a key priority for the A/P Staff Council.

“There is a level of uncertainty right now, great deal of unknown,” he said. “People read (news) and panic. We want to try to keep people from panicking and communication is key to that.”

He encouraged A/P staff to stay informed.

“The more aware you are, the more opportunity you have to contact legislators about the decisions they are making -- or not making,” he said. “Sometime (lawmakers) think no one cares because we’re not talking to them. It helps when we as a group can speak together.”

The 21-member council maintains a variety of standing and ad hoc committees specializing in certain issues. The standing committees include Committee on Committees, which appoints and recommends A/P staff members to committees across the campus, such as search committees. Dunn said getting A/P staff members involved in such decisions is important.

“Being left out of all those decisions would mean we’re just standing by,” Dunn said. “This lets us be active participants instead of spectators.”

The Constituency Relations Committee plans constituency meetings and serves as a liaison with the entire A/P staff. Other standing committees include the Operating Paper Committee, Staff Benefits Committee and the Staff Welfare Committee. An Executive Committee, comprised of the council’s top officers and the chairs of each of the standing committees, meets a week prior to the regular meeting to organize the council meeting.

The council meets in Anthony Hall’s balcony conference room on the third Wednesday of each month, and Dunn encourages the campus community to attend the meetings.

“Our meetings are always open. Anyone who wants to visit our meetings is welcome,” he said. “If they wish to comment, we welcome comments, as well.”

To get involved in A/P Staff Council, Dunn said staff members should begin attending meetings and volunteer to serve on campus committees when the annual call goes out. To run for council, nominations are due in February, he said, with elections held soon after. The council typically elects officers and makes committee appointments in May.

Another great resource is the council’s Web page, Dunn said, where agendas and minutes are cataloged.

Soon, A/P staff members will vote on a referendum that would do away with the term limit placed on A/P Staff Council members. Currently, council members can only serve one three-year term before taking off a year, Dunn explained. The council member can then run for re-election.

Dunn said it usually takes new council members their entire term to really get up to speed and become effective. Repealing the term limit is aimed at fixing that issue, he said.

“Also, finding people to run for the council can be challenging,” Dunn said. “It is a time commitment -- a well worthwhile one, but nonetheless. A lot of folks shy away for that reason.”

A/P staff members should receive a paper ballot via campus mail soon to vote on the issue, he said.

Dunn said above all the A/P Staff Council is there to serve constituents.

“We’re there to listen to your concerns and to do our best to answer the questions you have,” he said. “We welcome your questions and comments.”