University of Montana staff are doing extra work as their numbers dwindle, but they're not always getting paid for it.

A recent survey noted 245 classified staff out of 354 have taken on duties outside their job descriptions, yet some 82 percent are not earning additional compensation as a result, according to the UM Staff Senate. The Staff Senate created the survey to gather staff perspectives.

Senators discussed the survey Wednesday at a special meeting to review a report for campus priorities. The Staff and Faculty Senates met Wednesday to review President Sheila Stearns' report on setting campus priorities.

Stearns has served as interim president since Royce Engstrom was asked to step down about a year ago. Former GE executive Seth Bodnar — who moved into the president's residence Wednesday — takes over. 

Throughout, Stearns' report discusses opportunities for "sharing staff" in order to save resources.

At the Staff Senate meeting, President Maria Mangold said compensation is an issue for staff, and she again characterized the remaining workforce as "bare bones" and stated unequivocal opposition to any staff layoffs.

"We have been cut. This is the end of the line here. We cannot take any more involuntary (cuts)," Mangold said.

An estimated 90 staff are accepting a voluntary severance offer, a figure that represents nearly 20 percent of the classified staff paid out of the general fund although 3 percent of total full-time equivalents. UM officials have said the offers aim to save money on personnel, although the campus will need to hire some replacements in areas left with large gaps, such as IT.

At the meeting, staff senators questioned the sharing rationale, and they asked that proposals to consolidate positions come with clear evidence of related savings. Senators also called on the administration to make staff training and development a priority, as it is for faculty.

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At the Faculty Senate meeting, faculty members repeatedly described the recommendations in the president's report as "vague." Wednesday, they moved to hold a special meeting at the beginning of the spring semester to review and comment on more specific implementation plans before the new president makes any final decisions.

Behind the scenes, though, plans for concrete change are already underway, according to at least one senator. Senator Jody Pavilack said that even as the campus was considering vague recommendations in an open process, concrete decisions were being made in private negotiations.

"I think there's a contradiction between the vagueness here and the actual actions that are taking place," Pavilack said.

Faculty Senate Chair Mary-Ann Bowman offered a different perspective on the value of recommendations that aren't specific. She said the "high altitude view" presented in the president's report honors the expertise of others and creates space for their knowledgeable input.

Senator Abhishek Chatterjee, though, said some recommendations could have 15 different interpretations, and he and another senator questioned the assessment of the humanities in the report.

"The number of faculty in humanities can fluctuate without diminishing UM's commitment to the humanities at the heart of our historic curriculum," the report said.

A couple of faculty members also noted the lack of direct connection between recommendations and budget targets. One big reason UM embarked on the process to set campus priorities was because of its budget challenges from declining enrollment.

Paul Haber, head of the University Faculty Association, also noted that the president's recommendations to invest in biological sciences, health and medicine, as well as an MBA and master's in accountancy would have consequences. If UM moves in that direction, more input is needed, he said.

"If we're going to go forward, it should be a participatory process, and we have not done that on this campus yet," Haber said.

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Higher Education Reporter

Higher education / University of Montana reporter for the Missoulian.