Invisible staff

A UC Davis employee laments the rise of the UC corporate culture

Carol Crabill is a union-represented staff member in the UC Davis mathematics department, a UC graduate and part of the university’s loyal opposition.

When I was working in the sociology department at UC Davis, in a moment of naive hubris, I sent out an email to people all over campus warning that the university was effectively killing union activity, especially unions representing the lowest paid staff. I failed to rally troops and was warned by technical staff not to do that again.

It’s now been three years since the union that represents clerical staff has had a contract. But that is the least of our worries.

Sometimes I think that University of California President Mark Yudof was on to something when he was quoted in The New York Times Magazine that “being president of the University of California is like being manager of a cemetery.” He must like that because the silence has been convenient for the rise of the UC corporate culture.

So far, none of us—faculty, staff, students—are out protesting the outrageous salaries of UC administrators, which belie the university’s need for more of the taxpayers’ money.

Last February, I was at a conference—“From Survival to Success: Change Equals Opportunity”—with hundreds of clerical and administrative staff. Our dazzling Chancellor Linda Katehi gave an inspirational speech about her humble beginnings and climb to the top. She used her experience as a model for what we should do, not only to save ourselves from impending budget cuts, but more importantly, to save the university. She admonished us to figure out where the campus jobs will be.

We now know where those jobs will be for those who still have them: banished to a “Shared Service Center” away from the campus. The goal is to make the administrative processes “invisible” so that the focus can be on the university’s academic mission. The immediate task is the deportation of staff from administrative units. But the intention, according to Executive Vice Chancellor John Meyer, is to have “academic departments be full participants.”

Those of us in the trenches thought that we, by our service to faculty and students, were integral to the well-being of the university. But it appears that our work doesn’t fit with the chancellor’s so-called “Organizational Excellence” initiative. So those of us who aren’t laid off will be cut off from those we serve.

For years we have complained about the inefficient and antiquated systems, especially the payroll system which was developed in the ’80s. The architects of the Shared Services Center at UC Davis say that too many staffers are involved in payroll, human resources and financial transactions. If true, this is due to the nature of the systems, which would seem to indicate mismanagement of the university.

And yet salaries of top administrators keep climbing.

Now those of us at the bottom will have the opportunity, as our chancellor said recently, to do “something very positive and very memorable for (this) institution.” And in the process, we’ll be separated from UC’s mission and, perhaps, even our jobs. Meanwhile, the plan is to add massive numbers of students. Who will serve them?