Compiled from the Middlebury Staff Council Archives by Michael Warner.
In the 1960s, when Middlebury College last grew the size of its student body, there were changes in store for the staff as well. During the ’60s, ’70s and early ’80s, the size of the staff grew dramatically. As the numbers of staff increased, their jobs became increasingly varied and complex. AND, so it seems, did the concerns related to their employment.
The Personnel Office at the time, while doing a great job of explaining benefits, was not always meant as a place to take issues of concern or suggestions for change. They simply weren’t equipped to handle these types of questions. There were no formal channels for expressing concerns to the administration, let alone discussing solutions with them. For many members of the staff this led to a great deal of frustration and unhappiness—not necessarily because they were unhappy with their employment at Middlebury College but rather quite the opposite. Being dedicated and involved employees they were interested in bettering Middlebury College and fostering a relationship with their employer based on mutual trust, respect, and hard work.
In 1981, a group of concerned staff members from various sectors of campus began to meet during their lunch breaks. They compared notes about their concerns and questions regarding their employment and they sought an avenue for addressing their issues.
In April of 1981, 15 staff members sent a letter to David Ginevan, then the associate College treasurer, detailing some of the issues raised at these meetings. Of the more than 30 staff who attended the meetings, only half of them felt comfortable enough to sign this letter. Fear and distrust were very real for many staff on the campus. Listed as concerns were medical and dental benefits, maternity benefits, salary levels, lack of job classifications, and the vacation policy.
They simply suggested that they “…would like to open some channels of communication with the administration, whereby representatives of the administration and the staff could meet together to begin to address some of our concerns.”
That was the beginning of what, several years later, became the Middlebury Staff Council. Mr. Ginevan met with members of this group and held a series of meetings with a broader range of staff. While it was still a long way from being a representative voice, and thus stymied in many of its efforts, it was the start of a more formal dialogue.
Forming Staff Council
In 1986, a second effort began which was to finally set the course toward the first formally recognized and elected Staff Council. The new group gave itself a name—the Middlebury College Staff Association—and set up a steering committee. At initial meetings, to which all staff were invited, common areas of concern were identified and committees were set up to deal with them: compensation, work environment, publicity and events, and staff development. Anyone could volunteer to be on a committee. Each committee had co-chairs and those co-chairs served together as the executive committee. Eventually, the Staff Association changed its name to Staff Council.
The administration was still hesitant to deal with this group—as volunteers they were easy targets for the criticism that they did not democratically represent the staff as a whole. Even among some members of the staff they were seen as rabble rousers! Yet the voluntary Staff Council worked away, gathering issues, talking with more and more members of the staff and gathering momentum.
In late 1987, the discussion of staff representation took a more formal turn. The Staff Council executive committee, working with President Olin Robison and other members of the administration, drafted a formal Constitution, which was presented to the entire staff.
Finally, in the summer of 1988, after several drafts, many meetings, and much hard work, the Middlebury Staff Council (MSC) Constitution was put to an all-staff referendum vote. It was overwhelmingly approved! The Middlebury College Board of Trustees also approved the MSC Constitution. (The MSC Constitution was reviewed and revised after the first year and again in 1993. Each revision has also received the staff’s overwhelming approval.)
The stated purpose of the MSC in its Constitution is to help “make Middlebury College a better place to work.” Those are positive and powerful words which set the Staff Council’s challenge: to build a positive and effective reputation without becoming either adversaries or advocates of the administration.
As an official elected body, the Middlebury Staff Council represents all non-faculty staff members at Middlebury—more than 600 people. Currently, there are nine members who are elected to represent the following groups of staff: one each from Facilities Management—physical plant, Facilities Management—custodial, Dining Services, and Supervisory/Administrative; four members are elected to serve as district representatives—one from each of our four districts determined by building worked in; one representative serves as a member-at-large and is elected by the entire staff.
At the time, the College treasurer/vice president for administration served on the council as a nonvoting member. The assistant treasurer/director of Human Resources served as a representative. On a regular basis, the executive officers of the council met with the College president and the president also met with the council as a whole when the need arose. Once a year there was a meeting between representatives of the Board of Trustees and members of the council. The Staff Council received a regular College budget that was administered by the council president.
The council has served as an advisory group empowered to make suggestions and recommendations. The council did not have bargaining or negotiating power. For the administration to bargain with the council would be illegal.
- Ombudsperson Program was established in 1988 and its subsequent expansion from two ombudspersons to six in 1993 came after recommendations to the College president. While the ombudspersons are appointed by and report directly to the College president, the council makes recommendations for appointment.
- Equalizing the Vacation Schedule for full-time monthly and full-time hourly employees came after recommendations from the Council.
- New Employee Orientation
- Reduction in Force (RIF) Policy was developed by the council after the layoffs in 1991. The intent of the RIF Policy is to clarify the steps to be followed should such an event occur again in the future. The MSC also made recommendations for a severance package, which was eventually offered to the individuals who were laid-off.
- Grievance and Grievance Appeals Procedures
- Progressive Discipline Procedures were crafted by the council and approved by the administration.
- The College Handbook was developed with major input from Staff Council in 1988 and 1989. In consultation with Human Resources, the council has also been part of several subsequent revisions.
- Staff Representation on strategic planning committees. The council added its voice to the decision to add sexual orientation to the College’s Nondiscrimination Policy in 1991.
- Wage and Salary program in 1992.
- Job Evaluation program. The council played an “advisory” roll directly influencing the final product (for example, arguing strongly against caps on wages).
- Voluntary Separation
- Restructuring Programs were developed in 1993.
- Domestic Partner Benefits policy development included a council representative.
- Removal of Sick Leave Cap
- Conversion of Sick Days to insured days at retirement was discussed with the council before being enacted by the College.
- Arts and Crafts Shows which highlighted the artistic talents of the staff.
Other areas where the council has had influence on College policies include job postings, mileage reimbursement, the ability to take one’s personal day in half-day increments, the Suggest-It program, changes to the medical and dental plans, a review of EBPA’s service to the College, etc. The council has been consulted regarding the Harassment Policy, development and revision of a campuswide pet policy, adapting the College’s smoking policy to meet state laws, and more.
Appointments and Recommendation for Annual Appointment
These include but are not limited to Community Council, Computer Committee, College Safety Committee, and Residential Life Committee, among others. Additionally, the president of the MSC serves on the Overview Team which brings the staff’s voice to an important group whose other members are the College vice presidents. As the need arises, the council’s advice is sought for appointments to various nonstanding committees, such as the Insurance Review Committee and the Long-Range Planning Committee.
Once elected, members of the Staff Council are responsible to their constituents and to the council. Each elected representative brings the perspective and experience of the groups they represent to the discussion table.
While the council is not a labor negotiating group or an arbitration board, through its many efforts staff have a recognized channel to the administration and a reliable voice with the administration.
Although the council as a representative body is now elected, the members serve as volunteers—dedicated, hardworking, and concerned employees who hope to help make Middlebury (College, Institute, Schools) a great place to work for all of us.