Transcript of the CAP Chair’s public comments at Board of Trustees meeting

(Note: Melissa Madsen, Assistant Director of HR in the College of Fine and Applied Arts is chair of the Council of Academic Professionals and spoke at the May 2014 meeting of the Board of Trustees in Springfield. These are her comments.)

My name is Melissa Madsen and I am an academic professional and assistant director of Human Resources for the College of Fine and Applied Arts at the Urbana campus. I also Chair the Council of Academic Professionals, an advisory body to our chancellor charged with representing the interests of APs on campus. In addition, I represent APs on the Senate Executive Committee.

I am here today to share the academic professional community’s grave concerns about the activities of the State Universities Civil Service System, or SUCSS, led by its Executive Director, Mr. Tom Morelock. As many of you are aware, the SUCSS Merit Board voted in January 2013 to preserve the rights of universities to classify positions as academic professional (otherwise known as the exemption authority). Academic professionals and the state’s universities are grateful and remain so, to the Merit Board for its wise vote.

I will begin by saying that the opposing sides may have one thing in common: They believe in their cause. The difference is SUCSS appears willing to pursue its fight by any means necessary, however inimical to the needs and principles held dear by the institutions it purports to serve.

While we retained the exemption authority on paper, in practice SUCSS is clawing it back—in increasingly onerous and disruptive ways. Let me give you some examples:

1. Dramatic changes in audit processes:

  •        In 2011, the audits were no longer random, but ‘targeted random.’
  •        In 2013, anecdotal accounts emerged of new behavior by auditors. For example, one employee reported that the auditor was visibly disinterested in his explanation of his responsibilities, and quickly moved on to an extended sales pitch for the civil service system.

2. Quietly changing procedures to circumvent governing policies and agreements:

  •        SUCSS now argues that changes it made to its procedures manual trump its policies, including its 1998 agreement with the state universities that granted them the exemption authority. No credible state university would ever claim a procedures manual allows you to renege on your agreements or evade your own policies.

It does, however, appear to be standard operating, [pause], procedure, at SUCSS.

3. Misusing the classification system:

  •        Under the pretext of “updating” a low-level student services classification, SUCSS has instead amended the title, adding academic advisor duties to avoid the attention that creating a new classification in this area would attract. Sad to say, this is not the only example of how SUCSS is moving to create new titles or revise existing titles to “fit” positions we have always classified as exempt.  Some of these titles fall clearly under the type of exemption that Mr. Morelock has said in the past he would not challenge.

4. Refusal to explain findings:

  •        As an HR professional, I’d like to know what exactly we are doing wrong when exempting positions. We asked this of the campus at our last CAP meeting. We were told that Mr. Morelock has said he doesn’t see that it’s his responsibility to say what we’re doing wrong. Rather, it’s the University’s obligation to prove a negative.

In the courts, you don’t have to prove you’re innocent. In school, if you fail a test, you get your test back with red ink all over it. The instructor doesn’t tell you to look at your unmarked paper and figure out what you did wrong.

5. Retaliation against opponents:

  •        All three CAP officers, myself included, who have spoken publicly in support of the exemption authority had positions targeted in the 2013 audit. As the Senate Executive Committee has noted, the odds of all of our positions being audited at the same time are fairly astronomical.

Mr. Morelock attempted to explain this at the February meeting of the Merit Board by implying that SUCSS did not have the names of those pulled for the audit, then acknowledged that it did have access to the names, saying, “It’s not typically a trigger point for us.” “Not typically” and “trigger point” are words that speak for themselves.

But most importantly, SUCSS has failed this state’s institutions profoundly. At a time when state universities are struggling to hang on to state funding, when pension reform seems to mean neither reform nor much of a pension, when procurement and other regulations impair our ability to do business and win grants, SUCSS thinks it’s the right time to launch further attacks on our ability to compete.

This issue is not a “U of I” problem; it is not an Urbana problem; it is a problem shared by all of Illinois’ public universities. I urge every member of this Board to support us on this issue, and to carry that message to other state universities and key decisionmakers in this state.

Thank you for the opportunity to bring these issues to your attention.