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UNC-Chapel Hill Employee Forum

Hitchcock Multipurpose Room, Sonja H. Stone Center

NOTE:  This is a draft agenda and is subject to change without advance notice.

Meet and Greet with Incoming Delegates  (9:15 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.)

I. Call to Order, Opening Remarks, & Recitation of Forum Charge—Chair Charles Streeter (9:30 a.m. – 9:40 a.m.)

II. Special Presentation (9:40 a.m. – 10:25 a.m.)

  • Mark Merritt, Vice Chancellor and General Counsel

III. Human Resources Update (10:30 a.m. – 10:50 a.m.)

  • Vice Chancellor for Workforce Strategy, Equity, and Engagement Felicia Washington
  • Associate Vice Chancellor for Human Resources Linc Butler

IV. Consent Agenda (10:55 a.m. – 11:10 a.m.)

V. Old Business (11:10 a.m. – 11:15 a.m.)

  • Changes to Bylaws

VI.  New Business (11:15 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.)

  • Forum Officer Elections; Remarks from Forum Officer Candidates
    • Chair:  Shayna Hill
    • Vice Chair:
    • Secretary:  Kathy James
    • Treasurer:

VII.  Adjournment


May 3, 2017 Employee Forum minutes

Attending:  Dzenita Blackwell, Jo-Ann Blake, Sharon Brinson, Bonita Brown, Tiffany Carver, Clare Counihan, Mariel Eaves, Phil Edwards, Jasper Fleming, David Fraley, Chrissie Greenberg, Lori Haight, Naquan Hill, Shayna Hill, James Holman, Kathy James, Lakethia Jefferies, Karen Jenkins, Mary King, Alyssa LaFaro, Heather Lewis, Arlene Medder, Alan Moran, Natiaya Neal, Dustin Norris, Deborah Norton, Michael Penny, Jim Potts, Krista Prince, Ricky Roach, Summer Saadah, Cheri Simpson, Kewana Smith, James Stamey, Charles Streeter, Rose Thorp, Katie Turner, Ben Triplett, LaToya Taylor, Christine Van Vleek, K.D. Ann Welsh, Rich Wright, Tyler Yon

Excused Absences:  Bryan Andregg, Mary Dahlsten, Susan Lucas, Jeanna Mccullers, David Rogers, Lori Shamblin, Greg Smith

Chair Charles Streeter called the meeting to order at 9:23 a.m.  He noted the recent passing of Chair Emeritus Jackie Overton.  He asked that attendees observe a moment of silence honoring Overton’s life and work for the University.  Following this observance, the Chair noted a service for Overton would take place that Saturday morning.

The Chair welcomed the Forum’s newly elected delegates to their first official meeting.  He asked delegates to commit to attending as many meetings as possible.  He was pleased with the energy that was present in the room that morning.  He then led delegates in a round of introductions.  Then, he welcomed guests including Vice Chancellor for Workplace Strategy, Equity and Engagement Felicia Washington, Associate Vice Chancellor for Human Resources Linc Blair, University Ombuds Officers Laurie Mesibov and Victoria Dowd, General Counsel Mark Merritt and Kristen Lewis, and University Gazette editor Susan Hudson.  The Chair noted that the Forum hosts media such as the Daily Tar Heel and other outlets.

The Chair led Forum delegates in a recitation of the Forum charge.  He then officially welcomed the new delegates to their roles on the Forum.

The Chair welcomed Vice Chancellor and General Counsel Mark Merritt to make a presentation on the First Amendment and its application in a University setting.  Merritt was delighted to address the Forum, noting the interesting time in history in which we now live.  He noted that UNC-Chapel Hill has received the highest rating for protection of First Amendment issues by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the only public university to receive this distinction.

Merritt read the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  He said that the courts have treated individual rights differently depending on facts and circumstances, but have usually protected freedom of speech.

Merritt noted the general principle regarding the First Amendment from NY Times v. Sullivan:  The First Amendment reflects “a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open.” This principle prohibits the government, including public universities, from unreasonable restrictions on speech.

This right is very broad, reflecting a profound national commitment.  Merritt noted cases in which cross burning and flag burning have been protected.  The hallmark of the protection of free speech is to allow “free trade in ideas”—even ideas that the overwhelming majority of people might find distasteful or discomforting. (Virginia v. Black)  Regarding flag burning, the Supreme Court noted that “Our precedents… recognize that a principal “function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger.” (Texas v. Johnson)

Examples of protected speech include entertainment, when even the “low quality of entertainment does not necessarily weigh in the First Amendment inquiry…The First Amendment generally prevents government from proscribing … expressive conduct because of disapproval of the ideas expressed.” (IOTA XI Chapter of Sigma Chi Fraternity v. George Mason University)

Another example of protected speech is sexual expression (nude images).  The Court has ruled that “[s]exual expression which is indecent but not obscene is protected by the First Amendment.” (Reno v. ACLU)  Even vulgar words (F— the Draft) have been upheld:  “How is one to distinguish f— from any other offensive word?…[W]hile the particular word being litigated here is perhaps more distasteful than most others of its genre, it is nevertheless often true that one man’s vulgarity is another’s lyric.” (Cohen v. California)

The rights of the Westboro Baptist Church to engage in detestable speech is protected as speech on matters of public concern.  As the Court wrote, “”Don’t Pray for the USA…Semper Fi Fags…God Hates Fags…Thank God for Dead Soldiers…Priests Rape Boys[.]” While these messages may fall short of refined social or political commentary, the issues they highlight—the political and moral conduct of the United States and its citizens, the fate of our Nation, homosexuality in the military, and scandals involving the Catholic clergy—are matters of public import.” (Snyder v. Phelps)

Hate speech, a difficult to define concept, was defended by the Supreme Court under very broad free speech interpretation.  The Court said that swastikas “display on uniforms or banners by those engaged in peaceful demonstrations cannot be totally precluded solely because that display may provoke a violent reaction by those who view it.” (Village of Skokie v. Nationalist Socialist Party of America)

Regarding the University, Merritt asked the scope of possible regulation.  He said that true threats will not be protected under the First Amendment.  Similarly, explicit writings in certain contexts, such as disparaging and untrue speech about individuals, will not be protected under the First Amendment.  Racial epithets in certain contexts have not been protected as this speech is considered inappropriate, denigrating, and not consistent with University policies.  “Fighting words” also are not protected.

Merritt noted that cases before the Court are each tied to a set of unique facts which provide guidance when applied generally to other cases.  The Court has acknowledged the University’s right to put the time, place, and manner regulations on free speech.  This applies to University rules protecting the rights of speakers not to be shouted down or approached with items that could be construed as weapons.  Merritt said that the University’s core business as an educational institution means that the University can designate free speech zones, such as the Pit, and can prohibit amplification of speech in those zones to prevent disruption of classroom learning.

Merritt noted that the University Counsel addresses these issues from time to time in the context of the time/place/manner restrictions.  The Chair asked about a hypothetical case in which a coworker might call him “fat” but a third person overheard this statement and was offended on his behalf.  Merritt said that this is an incredibly difficulty question.  He said that the speech might violate University policy on speech disparaging certain body shapes and types.  What if the person who heard the taunt was obese?  He said that it is hard to give legal guidance without a firm set of facts.  An undergraduate might be worried about their anorexia and might react negatively to this taunt, no matter how well-intentioned.  He said that there is a general policy to try to respect people’s differences.

Katie Turner said that some faculty members have been placed on a faculty watch list, while other staff members have been deluged with negative e-mails.  She asked what protections these employees have in these situations.  Merritt said that North Carolina has a cyberstalking statute that requires that e-mail regarded as offensive must stop and be referred to the police.  He said that interpretations of violations of the cyberstalking statute vary and remedies can be abused.  He said that the internet is a new frontier that requires additional jurisprudence to resolve these new ambiguities.  Turner said that she had referred some of these complaints to the Department of Public Safety.  She said that there was no way to know if one or many individuals were responsible for these harassing interactions.  Merritt said that it is hard to trace anonymous e-mail, making it very difficult to protect individuals and free speech rights at the same time.

Ricky Roach thought it absurd that someone overhearing a conversation could get another into trouble.  Merritt said that specific information is needed.  In general, the First Amendment requires touch skins of American citizens, he said, as offensive speech is often protected.  At the same time, speakers need to use good judgment because their speech may be heard by those not intended to be recipients.  Merritt believed in common sense as a method to address these situations.

Cheri Simpson noted confusion regarding a recent Alert Carolina notice about fondling in Davis Library.  Merritt said that often in sexual assault cases there is not the luxury of time.  Kristen Lewis said that “forcible fondling” is a term of art that refers to touching private parts.  The term “sexual assault” has a different meaning under the Clery statute.  Alan Moran said that he is a minority in political speech in his work unit.  He wondered if this expression fell within one of the categories Merritt described.  Merritt said that the University has authority to set policies in the workplace regarding harassment and intimidation.  He said that these questions are often a matter of degree, and remedies are available if this speech creates a hostile work environment.

James Holman asked about limits on free speech rights for Employee Forum delegates.  Merritt said that he had been on campus six months and was unaware of any restriction on employee free speech rights.  He said that University officials will likely expect robust debate on issues of concern.  Holman asked about the Forum’s right to lobby politicians.  Merritt said that State laws prevent political participation by State employees during worktime.  These laws are meant to protect employees who never want the status of their job subject to the whim of a supervisor inducing political work in exchange for promotion or pay increases.  He said that these questions become tricky when State time and resources are discussed.

Summer Saadah asked about other free speech zones on campus.  Kristen Lewis said that the Pit is considered an open public forum, as is the Wilson Library frontage.  She said that these areas tolerate free speech in a way that would not be tolerated outside South Building, an administrative building.  Lewis said that the law weighs the use of certain University spaces for certain activities.

Jasper Fleming asked who determines when an employee is on their own time versus on State time.  Merritt said that he did not know much about employment law related to State employees, but he said that one should look at one’s own job and the expectations set generally.  A 9-5 worker will definitely be on State time once they have clocked in.  An employee with a flexible schedule must be cautious in this area.  Merritt said that there is a general restriction not allowing the use of University time or resources to advance political causes.

Ben Triplett asked about defining indecent and obscene material.  Merritt quoted Justice Potter Stewart who famously said that he knew obscenity when he saw it.  He said that not just rude behavior is considered obscene.  He observed also that the standard of obscenity has evolved since the advent of the 1960s in American society.

Krista Prince asked about how words intersect with grading and the implications for power differential in a campus setting.  Merritt said that a professor or teaching assistant (TA) generally enjoy broad protection under the First Amendment in the interest of promoting inquiry.  He noted opinions that state that the most effective language can be forceful.  He said that the First Amendment protects professors acting in good faith, but not if they intentionally violate policies related to race, religion, socio-economic status.  These policies place limits on First Amendment rights and potentially represent an inherent bias which prevents progress in education.

The Chair welcomed Vice Chancellor for Workplace Strategy, Equity and Engagement Felicia Washington to present the Forum’s customary Human Resources update.  Washington noted her triple roles as head of the University’s Human Resources, Equal Opportunity Compliance, and Diversity divisions.  She also serves as the University Administration’s liaison to the Employee Forum.  She noted that representatives from her office meet monthly with the Forum Executive Committee.

Washington said that Chancellor Carol Folt has created a strategic framework to aid as a priority workforce professional development.  Folt hoped to increase access to development opportunities while also elevating the diversity framework.  Washington recalled that these ideas have been presented at the Deans’ Council, the Faculty Council, and the Chancellor’s Cabinet, among other groups.  She sought to promote the good work that units and organizations are already doing for faculty, staff and students.

Washington noted that the University currently is looking for a new Chief Diversity Officer and also a permanent Title IX coordinator.  She hoped that the Forum could host the eventual hires in these areas.

Washington said that Human Resources’ Lunch and Learn series had hosted the new Equal Opportunity and Compliance Director Brandon Washington to discuss ‘EOC 101.’  She said that the EOC office will serve as a resource for Americans with Disabilities Act training and harassment prevention, among other endeavors.

Chrissie Greenberg asked about advertisement of professional development opportunities.  She said that Coursera courses the University once offered for free now cost $79/month.  She asked if any University unit would be willing to take over these fees in a way similar to  Washington said that she would discuss this with Director of Organization and Professional Development Mark Haapala.

Associate Vice Chancellor for Human Resources Linc Butler noted that the University’s 20 year and 25 year service banquets would occur this month.  He noted that the Office of the Provost has asked that faculty be included in these events for the first time.

Butler noted that the University has re-established the Work Well, Live Well full-time assistant who will serve in a support role to units seeking to increase wellness activities.  Butler noted that this program is of significant importance to the Chancellor who had worked to pull together this initiative.  Butler said that this position will be posted and a search committee appointed.

Senior Employee & Management Relations Consultant Tyler Enlow spoke on the performance management process.  He noted that employees should have received notifications through e-mail regarding changes to this process.  He hoped that employees would be able to access their performance ratings through ConnectCarolina’s self-service tab.  He said that so far the performance management process is 89% complete.  He was impressed with the amount of completed applications.

Enlow noted concerns that the performance evaluation form is very long.  As a result, Human Resources has broken up the form into three sections related to performance plans, performance appraisal, and performance reviews.  He said that Human Resources will offer workshops in completing these new appraisal forms through the month of May.  Enlow invited employees to provide feedback on the performance management policy and process via either or

The Chair noted that the consent agenda was now before the Forum.  He asked if there were anything that delegates wished to pull off and discuss individually.  Lacking this, Shayna Hill moved that the Forum approve its consent agenda, seconded by Kathy James.  The motion was approved without opposition.

The Chair noted that the Forum would undergo its first reading of proposed Bylaws changes at its June 14th meeting, with the second reading to follow at the July 12th retreat.  The main purpose of these changes will be to formalize the Forum’s ad hoc committees.

The Chair asked for speeches from the floor from those campaigning to run for Forum officer positions.  Shayna Hill said that she wanted to take Jackie Overton’s advice about running for the Chair’s position.  She said that she should never “make the position about me,” “intentionally act to cause harm,” “refuse to give support, or “refuse to accept support.”  Instead, she pledged to “stand in truth” and would work furiously to earn the Forum’s respect and trust.

Parliamentarian Phillip Edwards noted that other delegates could declare their candidacy at the next Forum meeting.  Kathy Ramsey declared her candidacy for Vice Chair, but chose to defer her remarks until June.

Kathy James declared her candidacy to continue in the Secretary position.  She had worked to respond to the needs of the Membership & Assignments committee, working on the Employee Appreciation Fair, the Forum Retreat, and the 25th anniversary event.  She also worked on the UNC Chancellor’s Cup golf tournament, as well as new delegate orientation and the voting process.

The Chair noted that the Forum Treasurer works with two specific accounts.  Treasurer Shayna Hill praised Forum Assistant Matt Banks for his work with the accounts.  She said that Banks would be available to help other candidates.  Naquan Hill said that he wished to run for the Treasurer position.  He had served at the University five years.  He said that he hoped to follow a spirit to serve and fight for people on campus.  He pledged to serve with professionalism, honor and integrity.

Phillip Edwards said that he would roll off as Forum Parliamentarian.  He said that his role has involved interpreting Forum Bylaws questions as well as various parliamentary matters.  He noted that he has served as a non-voting member on the Forum and the Executive Committee.  Katie Turner said that she is interested in the position but planned to wait on remarks until June.

Katie Turner noted that at Monday’s Faculty Council Executive Committee meeting a question arose regarding parking rates for post-doctorate employees.  She noted concern among the faculty that the Forum might push back against an effort to obtain a lower rate for permits for these employees.  The Chair noted that a letter had gone to the Chancellor regarding this question.  He noted that post-doctorate employees are allowed a doubling of their salary under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Katie Turner said that she had contacted Linc Butler regarding this question.  She said the Provost had said that these employees will have their minimum salary increased to $47,000/year.

Felicia Washington said that departments having the funding are to provide these increases which are not out of line with these post-docs’ extensive duties.  The Chair said that if the University scales back parking rates for post-docs, it should also do so for staff employees.  He noted that night parking plans have required sacrifices from staff employees.  He said a reduction in post-doc parking rates was not presented as part of the 5-Year plan recently agreed to by University decision-makers.  He did not think that this initiative should add a further burden on staff.  He assumed that the Advisory Committee on Transportation would meet on this subject in the fall, followed by the Board of Trustees taking up the issue.  He said that given that staff make one-half to two-thirds the minimum of post-doc employee salaries, he thought that the proposal should be reevaluated.

The Chair said that the Forum needs to establish an endowment to make its activities sustainable.  He urged the Forum to find ways to fundraise for its needs such as the Carolina Family Scholarship.  He proposed to discuss the question further at the next Forum meeting.

The Chair noted that the April 25th ropes course had been canceled due to poor weather.  He proposed that the Forum work to reschedule this course for delegates in June or in the fall.  Kathy James said that the Forum needs to find a hole sponsor for the Chancellor’s Cup golf tournament.  The Forum also needs donations for the tournament gift basket.  Kathy Ramsey, Kathy James, Shayna Hill, and Natiaya Neal have volunteered to work the tournament.  James Holman suggested that the Forum create a committee to seek sponsors for the tourney.  The Chair said that the tournament has raised approximately $55,000 for the Janet B. Royster scholarship for professional development.  He said that 5-7 people from UNC-Chapel Hill have won the scholarship.  Kathy Ramsey suggested that a sponsor need not provide the full $1500 sponsorship fee.

Ricky Roach reported that Shannon Harvey’s story would soon be published to publicize the June blood drive.  Greg Smith will write a story for the Forum’s InTouch newsletter.

Arlene Medder reported that the Carolina Campus Community Garden will hold an event to mark the opening of the solar greenhouse on Friday, May 19th.  She noted that the Forum has supported the Garden through financial donations as well as employee labor.  She said that the Forum hoped to hold a work day in July and August this year.

Kewana Smith asked about creation of divisional district listservs for communication with delegates’ constituents.  The Chair said that he would make sure these lists are set up soon.  Summer Saadah asked about how the Forum’s electoral districts work.  The Chair said that these districts are based on federal job classifications.  He said that a delegate represents every employee at the University in terms of presenting information or voicing a concern at a Forum meeting.

Lakethia Jefferies asked about obtaining a Forum pin.  Shayna Hill raised the question of scheduling HAVEN training for Forum delegates at a future meeting.  The Chair proposed discussing this question with the Forum Executive Committee.

The Chair distributed laminated cards inscribed with “Forum Delegate” for delegates to post in their offices.  Kathy Ramsey asked to see the officers five minutes before leaving.  The Chair encouraged delegates to partake of refreshments.

In the absence of further discussion, the meeting adjourned by acclamation at 11:33 a.m.

Respectfully submitted,

Matt Banks, Recording Secretary

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