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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.

I. Call to Order—Chair Shayna Hill (9:15 a.m. – 9:25 a.m.)

  • Welcome to Guests & Members of the Press

II.  Special Presentation (9:25 a.m. – 9:55 a.m.)

III. Human Resources Update (9:55 a.m. – 10:15 a.m.)

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

IV.  New Business (10:15 a.m. – 10:55 a.m.)

IV. Consent Agenda (10:55 a.m. – 11:15 a.m.)

V. Announcements/Questions (11:25 -11:30 a.m.)

VI.  Adjournment


November 1, 2017 Employee Forum meeting

Attending:  Bryan Andregg, Tiffany Carver, Clare Counihan, Mary Dahlsten, Mariel Eaves, David Fraley, Lori Haight, Naquan Hill, Shayna Hill, James Holman, Lakethia Jefferies, Mary King, Heather Lewis, Arlene Medder, Alan Moran, Katie Musgrove, Jim Potts, Ricky Roach, David Rogers, Summer Saadah, Lori Shamblin, Greg Smith, Kewana Smith, James Stamey, Katie Turner, Tyler Yon

Excused Absences:  Bonita Brown, Kathy James, Alyssa LaFaro, Chris van Vleek, Richard Wright,

Chair Shayna Hill called the meeting to order at 9:16 a.m.  She noted that this is the final formal meeting of the year, as the Forum will hold its 25th anniversary event in December.

The Chair introduced Mark Merritt, Vice Chancellor and General Counsel for the University, Leslie Parise, Chair of the Faculty, Linc Butler, Associate Vice Chancellor for Human Resources, to form a panel to discuss the “freedom of speech” draft revisions to the University governance documents.  The Chair said that Judge William Webb of the UNC Board of Governors had charged the UNC System Staff Assembly to provide input and feedback on the proposed University policy revising campus free speech policies.  The Board will meet November 2nd and had requested feedback prior to this meeting.  She said that the Forum could not provide feedback on this question without discussion, which is the reason that the Forum circulated drafts of this document to its members immediately.  She asked delegates to provide concerns and feedback on the relevant questions for panel members.

Arlene Medder asked if there were funds to accompany the new policy, as staff will need to deal with the ramifications of policy enforcement.  Leslie Parise said that there are unfunded mandates in House Bill 527 which directs the UNC Board of Governors to draft a policy regarding freedom of speech.

Mark Merritt recalled that the statute in question was passed this summer.  He noted that the First Amendment to the Constitution provides a right to free speech and assembly which means that UNC, as a public institution, must allow others to hear and allow to be heard all forms of speech, subject to restrictions on time, place and manner of expression.  These restrictions must be content-neutral.  The University has the right to designate public and non-public forums for discussion.  For example, the Pit is a public forum for discussion while campus classrooms are designated as non-public forums since educational functions occur there.

Merritt said that the new statute requires that the University impose disciplinary sanctions upon those who substantially interfere with the University’s function to uphold the First Amendment.  “Substantially” refers to the standard by which facts and circumstances govern the decision.  Merritt said that the statute is prescriptive in that it requires the Board of Governors to put in place a policy to advance free speech interests by limiting defamation, threats, invasion of privacy, and disruptions of University functions.  He noted that the Board of Governors policy attempts to define material and substantial in terms of the criminal code, a standard which is not helpful.  He said that the policy contains a “three strikes and you’re out” clause but allows discretion for forgiveness.

Clare Counihan asked how this policy impacts the First Amendment rights of community members, asking if the threat restriction constitutes a violation of these rights.  Merritt said that the First Amendment prohibits prior restraint of these rights.  The test is to look at facts and circumstances to see if the speech is significantly disruptive.  Merritt said that the General Assembly’s apparent concern is the “heckler’s veto” by which a group so dislikes remarks that it disrupts the speech so that others cannot hear.  This practice is not protected under the First Amendment, which provides a right for others to speak and hear.  He asked what constitutes a heckler’s veto.  The University has already set rules to limit disruptive conduct, by disallowing large signs, wooden poles, and noisemakers in public discussions.  Those who disrupt a speaker are asked to stop, and if they refuse, are asked to leave.  He said that these conventions will need reexamination given the new policy.

Counihan asked about the definition of disruptive speech.  She recalled a campus town hall on race that some groups interrupted.  Merritt was not familiar with this occurrence.  He said that other UNC System campuses have experienced a shouting down of speakers as well as physical assault.  He said that at UNC-Chapel Hill there is a tendency to err on the side of freedom of expression.

Leslie Parise said that the UNC Faculty Senate had suggested eliminating Section 7 of the policy which sanctions behavior that already is governed by University policy.  The Senate worried that this section would create layers of bureaucracy in the imposition of sanctions.

Alan Moran thought that faculty and staff employees do not have the same level of practical First Amendment rights as students at the University.  He noted that faculty and staff may involve themselves in politics outside of work.  He noted concerns that the proposed BOG policy will suppress community participation in political manners, by exposing participants to retribution at work.  Merritt said that political activity outside of work is “your business” and does not pertain the statute.

Moran asked why students are targeted by this statute.  Merritt said that the intent of the statute is to protect the First Amendment rights of listeners.  If an invited speaker is going to make controversy, the First Amendment wants this controversy to be public.  These rules are meant to give the ability to speakers to speak without interruption.

Katie Turner recalled the case of noted neo-Nazi Richard Spencer’s remarks at the University of Florida in a private space.  Merritt said that this was a ticketed event and so was not considered a public event.  Spencer’s speech rights would be protected under the policy.  He noted that Spencer was still shouted down at the University of Florida.  It was asked what the response at UNC-Chapel Hill would be to this situation.  Merritt said that if a University-sponsored speaker is substantially disrupted under the facts and circumstances test the disruptor would be subject to discipline.  He said that the ticketed event would lead to an even more strict evaluation of facts and circumstances than a free event.  He added that it is difficult to make a general principle without knowing a case’s details.

Merritt said that the First Amendment balances private property rights with free speech rights, allowing the designation of certain areas as limited and off-limits to public speech.  Clare Counihan asked how this policy would play out for faculty in classrooms accused of political speech when speaking within their discipline.  A case in which a student leaked a syllabus, leading to faculty discipline, was cited.  Merritt said that the policy under discussion does not intend to speak to classroom situations.  He said that political discussions are expected as part of the University’s remit of academic freedom.  He said that political discussion would not be appropriate in a mathematics classroom, for example.  Overall, he did not envision this policy’s use to govern classroom interactions.

The Chair said that the “three strikes” provision seemed problematic and set a chilling tone for participation in campus discussions.  Merritt said that the court would need to address whether statute or policy is interfering with acceptable forms of dissent.  He said that the historical viewpoint of dissent has been very respectful here at UNC-Chapel Hill, provided that this dissent does not disrupt the speaker or the audience.  He did not see a sign of change in this attitude in the policy.  He noted that the University holds the highest rating in its treatment of First Amendment issues among American universities.  Leslie Parise said that the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) had given UNC-Chapel Hill this rating.  She agreed that the three strikes provision provides a chilling tone to the new revisions.  Merritt agreed that FIRE had spoken against the three strikes policy.

Ricky Roach said that this discussion seemed overcomplicated.  He thought that individuals should speak in turns to say what they need to say in a respectful manner.  He did not know why some feel compelled to yell at a group in a public speech setting.  He felt that these people fear the ideas under discussion.  He added that if these people shout down discussion, there should be ramifications for these actions.  He laughed at the idea of tolerance as practiced by those disrupting speech.

Merritt said that a university campus should have robustness and confidence that good speech will defeat bad speech.  He thought that the First Amendment requires that citizens have a thick skin as all will have the same freedoms of speech.  He said that the antidote to hate speech is to turn away from the speaker or argue against their remarks.  He said that studies have shown that it is most effective to not show up where hate speakers speak.

Bryan Andregg said that UNC-Chapel Hill has some positions and centers which have been portrayed by the Board of Governors and the Legislature as disruptive to free speech.   He noted worries that the new policy will be used to chill speech and action by those bodies against those engaging in unpopular work.  David Rogers thought that the policy, even if handled on a case by case basis, seems to proactively keep some from speaking up.  He asked if the University really needed the policy.  Merritt said that the Legislature has required that the Board of Governors adapt this policy.  Once revisions are complete and approved, the policy will apply to all sixteen UNC System campuses.  He hoped that no change would result from the policy.  Merritt noted that the First Amendment trumps other laws and policies.  However, he did not think the statute violates the First Amendment.

Leslie Parise asked if the policy resultant from the statute violates the First Amendment.  Merritt said that the three strikes provision is not absolute.  The provision allows for discretion in its application, which seems to undercut the clarity of the policy.  Mariel Eaves asked if it was feasible to decide how much the policy will apply to individual campuses.  Who would decide the level of enforcement at each campus?  She thought that UNC-Chapel Hill would be closely monitored.  Parise said that the Board of Governors’ actions seemed directed at the disruption caused by the heckler’s veto at Board meetings, primarily.  Clare Counihan asked if violations of the policy will be enforced more at UNC-Chapel Hill than elsewhere.  Merritt said that any second finding of substantial disruption could result in disciplinary action of suspension.  Any third finding could result in similar action up to dismissal from employment.  Merritt said that the preference from a free speech perspective is for a flexible standard of discipline.

Linc Butler said that it is the job of the Office of Human Resources to insure the policy is consistently applied given the totality of circumstances.  He said that the Office will advise supervisors on this consistent application.  Katie Turner asked about a burden on the enforcement policy with supervisors who are not trained in the application of the policy.  She asked about supervisors unaware of the governing circumstances when setting disciplinary action.  Butler said that management is responsible for disciplinary action and would handle instances of conduct by hearing witnesses when needed.

Mariel Eaves said that the First Amendment is set to protect speech abridged by the government.  She said that students do not act as State agents when using the heckler’s veto.  She asked how students can violate the First Amendment if they are not agents of the government.  Merritt said that UNC-Chapel Hill is a government agency that is responsible for events with speakers.  The University would remove someone from the town also who is disruptive to free speech.  The University is responsible as a public institution for the free speech rights of all who work, live and visit here.  A speaker also has rights which must be also upheld subject to a consistent application of the First Amendment (restrictions cannot be based on content but instead on disruptive nature, unless defamatory or threatening).

Clare Counihan said that State law seems set up so that responses to this policy will occur when conservative speakers are heckled by liberal or progressive attendees.  She said that this practical application influences perceptions of the law that it exists to protect a certain type of speech.  She said that these perceptions quell speech rights.  Secondly, Counihan said that the consistency of implementation would be very difficult to achieve given social science findings about the consistency of discipline between racial groups.  She noted that African-Americans and women have been more subject to sanction while white tenured male faculty have been responsible for incredible abuse in academic settings, without sanction.

Vice Chancellor for Workplace Strategy, Equity and Engagement Felicia Washington said that the policy requires a University official to insure compliance.  She said that social scientists could structure the consistency of application to limit discriminatory outcomes.  Merritt noted the source of the change arose from concerns about the heckler’s veto.  He noted that U.S. courts try to protect speech as it is not prohibited in an incredibly broad manner.  The University is not able to choose whether to carry out this policy as it is required by legislation.  Counihan said that the perception of the law in response to this set of incidents still makes employees feel in the context of their jobs that certain types of speech are more closely surveilled.

Mariel Eaves asked if disruptive speech can be removed, why then does disciplinary action exist to protect speech.  She did not see why the policy moves to expel University-affiliated participants.  Leslie Parise said that the Faculty Senate agreed with this point of view.  Merritt asked what would occur if the same person disrupts free speech events 10 times in a row.  He said that it can be challenging to know how to apply statutes, particularly as related to law enforcement.  How long must a protestor be escorted out from a meeting?  What if they refuse to leave?  Eaves asked if the University should be involved in this law enforcement job.  Merritt said that the University cannot avoid its responsibilities as a public entity under the First Amendment.  Parise noted concerns that protestors might face sanctions on dual tracks, from the University’s internal disciplinary procedures and potential criminal conduct.  She said that these dual sanctions are already common and accepted.  Eaves asked why dual sanctions are needed in this manner.

Mark Merritt summed up the Forum’s concerns:  an unfunded mandate associated with the policy; the three strikes provision and its chilling effect on participation; the definition of substantial disruption; concerns about motivation behind the law leading to inconsistent or partisan enforcement; and concern about consistent enforcement through the University System.  The Chair thanked all for their participation in the discussion.

Felicia Washington presented the Forum’s customary Human Resources update.  She noted that the Employee Appreciation Day had gone very well.  She said that the Tar Heel Tribute to veterans will take place Friday, November 10th in the Carolina Club.  She reminded listeners that the University will be closed December 25-29th, with December 28th designated as a closed day.  Lori Haight thanked Washington for her generous contributions to the Forum’s scavenger hunt.

Linc Butler introduced Jessica Pyjas, the University’s Work/Life and Wellness Program Manager.  He was grateful that Pyjas could join the University from the State Health Plan.  He hoped that delegates would support Pyjas in her work in engaging employees in campus wellness initiatives.   Pyjas will work to combine efforts from central Human Resources, Campus Recreation, the Center for Public Service, and the School for Public Health, among other areas.

Butler said that Human Resources is also examining mental health resources at the University and their provision across campus.  Clare Counihan suggested that any survey contain a section on caregiver resources.

Butler reported that the Carolina Cares/Carolina Shares program had raised $348,000 thus far.  He thanked the Forum for its partnership in getting word out to participants.

Senior Benefits Consultant Rob Stevenson thanked the Forum for its help getting word out to employees about annual benefits enrolment.  He said that 89% of campus employees have acted, leaving 11% to complete their enrollment.  Stevenson reported that 3,600 employees are enrolled in the 70/30 plan and 8,520 employees are enrolled in the 80/20 plan.  The University pays $6.1 million to pay its share of coverage for its employees.  He noted that under 4,000 employees have enrolled in the new accident insurance plan.

Stevenson said that the Benefits Office submits figures for the voluntary shared leave program.  He said that last year 12,000 hours of sick leave and 530 hours of bonus leave were donated to keep fellow employees in paid status.  He thanked employees for their support of these programs.

An employee said that employees should consult to make suggestions for added State benefits programs.  Stevenson offered to speak in further detail with employees via e-mail at  James Stamey thanked the Benefits Office for working to help third shift employees enroll at 5:30 a.m.  He considered this assistance “beyond the call.”

The Chair welcomed Bryan Andregg to present resolution 17-04 concerning the impact of rising benefit costs on recruitment and retention on first reading.  Andregg thanked Katie Turner and Clare Counihan for their contributions to this resolution.  Arlene Medder commented that she loved the data in the resolution.  Felicia Washington asked if the percentage data on the Consumer Dependent Health Plan option was accurate.  Turner said that the resolution’s authors had only anecdotal data in this area.  She said this was a reason to ask the proposed working group to study how these options are working for staff.

Washington asked if the Forum was aware of the System-wide engagement survey to be released in January 2018.  She said that General Administration will survey all permanent faculty and staff over a three-week period related to benefits.  The survey is meant to tap employee experience and satisfaction to assist State Government functions.  Katie Turner asked if the survey will drill down to the campus level.  Washington said that UNC-Chapel Hill had limited input on how questions are asked in the survey.  Clare Counihan asked how the Forum could have access to this data.  Washington said that the University has the option to pay for an on-line portal to this data.  She said that this information may not be pulled together when the survey of employees from General Administration is distributed.  It was noted that schools get data in the late fall.  Bryan Andregg noted the poor record of access to information.  Washington did not know if this portal would provide quicker access to data.

Ricky Roach commented that the State should look elsewhere than the State Health Plan to make up revenue.  He said that the difference in health insurance premiums between the State and the private sector was enormous.  Katie Musgrove noted that this difference affects current versus past employees.  Roach said that his shop has seen a decline in mechanics from 12 to four or three.  The Chair offered that an exit survey might be the easiest way to capture these concerns.  Felicia Washington added that the University could find different ways to change the culture surrounding exit interviews.

Alan Moran commented that Roach’s department is very important.  The co-generation plant provides steam for the entire University and the Health Care System, and sells electricity as well.  He asked how important Roach’s work is to the University.

Katie Turner moved that the rules be suspended to allow consideration of the resolution on first reading.  Alan Moran seconded this motion.  Lori Haight asked if the working group in the resolution must be linked to the exit interview.  She asked how much the working group differed from the Forum’s Personnel Issues committee.  Turner said that the working group would be charged by the Chancellor under the Office of Human Resources to work on rising health care costs.  Clare Counihan said that the proposed survey would not obviate the need for this work.

Felicia Washington asked the purpose of the paragraph to measure satisfaction with the University climate.  She said that a benefits and compensation working group could not access climate data.  Turner said that the group could study climate change at employee exit interviews.  She said that this study would fall under the discretion of the Office of Human Resources to implement.

The Chair asked if the word “climate” should be removed from the resolution.  Turner said that the word should remain as climate is one factor in the exit interview.  Alan Moran said that the work should benefit the University in retaining its knowledge base and attracting new employees.  The Chair said that the resolution addresses benefits and compensation.  Clare Counihan said that climate is intrinsic to the development of exit interview.  She said that faculty committees also include climate discussions in its exit interviews.  Bryan Andregg said that benefits and compensation form part of the University climate.

Wayne Blaire said that the Ombuds office has advocated a formalized exit interview process as this information affects the University community.  He said that benefits affect campus climate as well.  Washington recommended that the phrase “out of cost” be replaced by “out of pocket.”  Andregg accepted this suggestion as a friendly amendment.

The Forum voted to approve the proposed resolution.

The Chair had circulated a report on market rates for University positions.  Bryan Andregg said that the Personnel Issues committee will work on this document in 2018.

The Chair noted concerns about the two closed days scheduled for the holiday period in 2018.  Bryan Andregg asked at what level the decisions were made to implement these closed days.  Felicia Washington said that this decision was made at the highest level of leadership at the University and had received multiple expressions of thanks from University staff and faculty.  Clare Counihan voiced a concern about using community service leave (CSL) for these closed days.  Katie Musgrove said that employees can indeed use CSL for these days when following regular procedures about obtaining supervisory approval in advance.  She hoped that employees will take advantage of the opportunity to use CSL during these days.

Bryan Andregg noted the involuntary shared leave pool for those unable to use CSL during these closed days.  Linc Butler said that this is an outside policy.  Felicia Washington said that the University would be interested in any instances in which employees express hardships.  She did not have statistics related to the 2017 closed day yet.

Ricky Roach asked the fate of his 600 hours of sick time given his imminent departure from the University.  He confirmed that these hours remain his for five years.  Linc Butler said that any leave donations must be made before leaving the University.

Jim Potts reminded the Forum to track when the State originates its budget.  He said that SEANC had worked to obtain one extra day of bonus leave.  Butler said that the three added bonus leave days have no expiration date.  He did not know what the Legislature would approve next budgetary cycle.  Potts suggested that the University press for one extra bonus day for employees to use during the holiday closed period.  The Chair said that the Personnel Issues committee is looking for feedback to record staff hardship related to holiday closed days.  Felicia Washington asked what this would mean when the campus calendar is created two days in advance.  She thought that employees have an opportunity to plan for these closed days.

Arlene Medder said that employee feedback has shown that some employees do not want to take the closed day off.  She said that the University does not look good forcing employees to something they do not want to do.  Bryan Andregg said that an expansive definition of hardship could alleviate these concerns.  The Chair asked about allowing flexible compensatory time.  Felicia Washington said that this option is already available on the Human Resources website.

Katie Musgrove thanked Ricky Roach for his work on the Forum Community Service committee and the Carolina Blood Drive.  Musgrove offered delegates posters related to the December 12th winter blood drive.  She noted that Forum delegates will receive recognition at the Western Carolina football game November 18th.  Delegates should respond to the Qualtrics survey to declare how many tickets they will require for the game (up to four).  Delegates will have the opportunity to participate in the canned food collection for the Food 4 All food drive prior to the game at Tar Heel Town.

Katie Turner thanked Lori Haight for her work on the Forum’s scavenger hunt on Employee Appreciation Day.  Haight said that the final prizes related to the hunt should go out soon.

In the absence of further discussion, the meeting adjourned at 11:17 a.m.

Respectfully submitted,

Matt Banks, Recording Secretary

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