Voice
A raven sculpture perches in front of the Egan Library on the University of Alaska Southeast Auke Lake campus in Juneau. Photo by Monique Musick

Annual Leave Cash-out Program Changes

By Erik Seastedt, CHRO

Research continues to show the health benefits, both physical and mental, of taking a break from work, whether that’s a vacation someplace else, or a ‘staycation’ right at home. In fact, around the globe, 137 different countries REQUIRE employees to take a vacation from work. The United States is the only industrialized country in the world that does not.

While we have no intention of joining these 137 other countries, to help reduce a significant budget shortfall, and to help encourage our employees to use, rather than cash out annual leave each year, UA is modifying the cash-out program effective Jan. 31, 2015 until further notice. As of that date, only employees at Grade 79 and below will be able to continue to cash out leave time (up to 40 hours). The program will be suspended for employees at Grade 80 and above, including senior administrators and executive officers. The expected savings to the system is estimated at over $560,000 per year. This was agreed to by the president and the chancellors in a Summit Team decision to reduce cash-out cost at each university in the same way.

There is no change to annual leave accrual rates and UA will, as per current policy (P04.06.120), continue to trim annual leave balances to 240 hours as of January 31 of each year. It is our sincere hope that this action results in annual leave benefits being used as intended—for annual leave.

To help facilitate annual leave use, supervisors are requested to make it easy for employees to take time off: assign tasks to others whenever possible to prevent an unwieldy backlog of duties waiting for an employee upon their return; create an annual leave calendar with ‘blackout’ dates as necessary to ensure time off while also accounting for high volume work times; encourage employees to strike a true balance between their work and home lives. Supervisors are further reminded that ANY denial of a request for annual leave requires a written explanation to the employee per regulation R04.06.120(B).

This change does not apply to Local 6070 members and employees are encouraged to contact their local Human Resources office with any questions or concerns.

UA Board of Regents repeals retention incentive at president's request

The University of Alaska Board of Regents agreed Sept. 8, 2014, in a special meeting in Anchorage to rescind a retention incentive approved as part of the president's contract in June.

Before taking a vote, they individually voiced support for UA President Pat Gamble but many agreed with him that the incentive’s timing was unfortunate in light of current and expected budgetary constraints and could hurt his effectiveness.

President Gamble requested the board take another look at the retention incentive. He said now, more than ever, the university community must work together to tackle difficult challenges facing higher education in Alaska.

The board met in executive session in Anchorage Sept. 8 to discuss a number of fiscal and budgetary matters, but then went into open session to publicly vote on deleting the retention incentive from the president’s contract. The motion passed, 9-1. One regent, Gloria O’Neill, was absent. Regent Fuller Cowell voted against rescinding.

The board expressed support for President Gamble’s leadership, particularly on the Shaping Alaska’s Future initiative, an outcomes-based framework for more collaboration and continuous improvement within the UA System. It was adopted as UA policy in June.

UA Regents increase Scholars award, approve medical assisting certificate

The University of Alaska Board of Regents unanimously approved a proposal to increase the UA Scholars Award by $1,000, wrapping up a two-day meeting in the Capital City on Sept. 18-19, 2014.
 
The UA Scholars Award, funded solely by the university through its land endowment, has not increased since it was created in 1999. The regents’ action Friday increases the total award to $12,000, up from $11,000.
 
One other change to the Scholars program, also approved unanimously, will increase the minimum required credit load per academic year from 24 credits to 30 credits, beginning in the second year of the award. Research shows full-time students who take 30 credits a year are more successful than students who take a lighter load. The changes take effect with awards decided in spring 2014.
 
In other action, the board voted against a tuition increase proposed by the administration, after several hours of considerable debate. The 4 percent increase, an additional $6-$8 per credit charge for undergraduate courses, would have brought in an additional $4 million systemwide in FY16.
 
The UA System currently faces an approximately $26 million budget gap, following a cut from the state Legislature in addition to increased fixed costs. UA tuition plus fees are the second lowest in the nation among public baccalaureate institutions, according to the College Board. Only Wyoming’s public institution charges less. Among the 15 western states, UA has the third lowest tuition rates when fees are not included.

Reasons for voting against the proposal were mixed. Several board members expressed concern with how the UA System prioritizes programs and develops its annual budget request. The vote was 4-7. Regents Tim Brady, Fuller Cowell, Mike Powers and Pat Jacobson voted in favor of the increase, citing the low regional and national figures and recent budget cuts. Regents Kirk Wickersham, Dale Anderson, Jo Heckman, Mary Hughes, Courtney Enright, Gloria O’Neill and Ken Fisher voted against the increase.
 
With the vote, the current tuition rates will remain in effect for the next academic year.
 
Regents also approved a new certificate in medical assisting at the University of Alaska Southeast. Numerous health-care providers from the region spoke in favor of the certificate, citing significant demand.
 
“The need for CMAs (certified medical assistants) is great. If I could hire 12 today, I would hire 12 today. My problem is I can’t find 12 who are certified,” said Sara Lang, nursing director for the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Corp., or SEARHC.
 
Medical assistants help deliver a broader range of health care services, such as delivering injections, taking medical histories and assisting with procedures. Without certification, the assistant’s services are more restricted, several health-care providers said.
 
In other matters, board members attended a reception and toured the new freshman housing complex at the Auke Lake campus. Students led regents and guests on a tour and spoke enthusiastically about the complex, which has a spectacular view of Mendenhall Glacier, the lake and surrounding mountains. “Frankly, I don’t want to go home,” joked Sammie Freeman, a freshman nursing student from Anchorage.

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