Montana University System Staff Association

September 19-21, 2007, at MSU Billings

The Montana University System Staff Associations (MUSSA) had agenda time with the Regents on September 19, 2007 at 11:30 am. MUSSA met from 9:00 am – 3:00 pm, with a presentation to the Regents at 11:30 am. Outside the presentation, MUSSA discussed issues relevant to their collaborative operations. Following, are MUSSA’s notes and impressions of the proceedings.
MUSSA MEMBERS PRESENT: Kelli Grantham and Amy Beatty, MSU-Billings; Shelley Hiniker, Staff Senate UM-Missoula; Christine Muller and Julie Strobel, MSU-Northern; Mary Engel, Chris Bauer and Sara France, MSU Bozeman. Apologies from UM-Helena and UM-Western.

Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education (OCHE) Recruitment and Retention Task Force advisory report:
MUSSA discussed at length the “Improving the Ability to Hire and Keep Capable Employees” report. Sara France, the classified representative, worked closely with MUSSA throughout her assignment to the Task Force, ensuring the appropriate focus of her participation in the process, and during the report’s compilation.

Sara described her perception of the final document: It states three opinions, in the strongest terms:

  1. the Montana University System (MUS) is already substantially and negatively impacted by difficulties recruiting and retaining capable employees. Failure to improve the situation will only result in more severe consequences;
  2. each campus faces unique challenges which are best addressed locality by locality;
  3. the MUS must work to ensure that campuses have adequate resources to provide competitive compensation for their employees.

In addition to these findings, the report makes various recommendations which, although not ranked, are listed so as to reflect the employee group(s) most affected by the initiatives listed in each section. Various considerations should be born in mind when reading the report:

  • the logistical environment in which the MUS operates, and the realistic time frames associated with progressing the initiatives;
  • the report’s attempts (bearing in mind logistics and time frames) to provide on-going flexibility for the MUS to adapt to the developing and changing needs of each campus, as campuses respond to the dynamics of both niche and local employment/ housing market influences;
  • the report’s recommendations are not intended to detail the definitive action necessary to implement any initiative; rather to offer the Regents carefully-measured, preferred avenues of pursuit;
  • the report’s eighteen pages are designed to be read in their entirety, as consideration of any one recommendation, or part, affects the context of the whole. For instance, studying only the “support staff in classified positions” section would severely diminish the reader’s ability to glean the extent to which the report benefits the classified staff generally.

The largest, and most comprehensive, of the report’s recommendation sections benefits all employment categories (staff, faculty, and professionals). The first-listed item reflects opinion #3, above. This is the initiative by which the Regents might improve potential funding for salaries through pro-active budgetary planning with the Governor’s Office. Other elements associated with this recommendation are the identification of appropriate salary comparators (including, for the first time, studies of wages in the private sector); and addressing inversion and compression (which occurs when market pressures call for new hires to be paid similar, or higher, salaries than existing employees).

Further suggestions, advantaging all employees, include the development of initiatives in the areas of housing, child care, graduate programs, summer session, and the enhancement of the dependent partial tuition waiver. Items listed in the “faculty, professionals, administrators” section are largely self-explanatory. Meanwhile, the “support staff in classified positions” section recognizes:

  • the financial implications for staff members in 9 and 10-month positions as opposed to those whose jobs employ them year-round. “Work Opportunities for Non-full-time Staff”;
  • the unique systems and policies at work within the MUS and the essential need, especially in times of high turnover, to maintain new hires’ knowledge of the procedures and principles vital in the performance of their basic duties. Plus, the benefit of both attracting and retaining motivated and creative employees interested in career progression, and to provide for professional growth opportunities on our campuses. “Training and Mentoring”;
  • the desirability, to both employee and employer, of a working environment which promotes a life and work balance. “Flexible Work Schedules”.

(View the full report here.)

Task Force members are happy to answer questions about the report and its inclusions. The member representing classified staff is Sara France (

MUSSA preparations:

In the morning on Wednesday, MUSSA had a long discussion of the OCHE recruitment and retention task force report. We agreed upon MUSSA priorities, in readiness for our meeting with the Regents, although we didn’t plan to discuss the report directly, since it wasn’t due to be presented to the Board until later in the day.

Our other discussion on Wednesday morning was about Pooled Resources. Despite MUSSA’s recent encouragement of donors to submit training materials, current inventory is still insufficient to launch the facility. To reach the required level will entail many more MUSSA “man hours”. MUSSA agreed that, as we’ve indicated to the Regents in the past, since our time with MUSSA is voluntary and at supervisor discretion, we really can’t tackle a project of this scale under the present workloads and pressures of our “real” jobs. The labor offered by UM during the implementation planning process is in limbo because of staff reorganizations there, but may resolve somewhat in the next couple of months.

MUSSA presentation to the Board of Regents:
When MUSSA met with Regents Hamilton, Barrett, Buchanan, Melvin, Taylor (apologies from Regents Pease and Christian), Commissioner Stearns, and Kevin McRae, we gave our planned presentation (an update of recruitment and retention issues on each campus, and speaking about the status quo with Pooled Resources). We answered Regents’ questions about the Task Force report - which revolved around whether MUSSA felt its voice had been heard by the Task Force (yes); and around professional development and training (PD&T) needs, and staff usage of the employee fee waiver. We explained the likely difference between study under the fee waiver, and potential on-the-job development opportunities to be offered by Pooled Resources. MUSSA stressed its predicament over Pooled Resources (described above). The Regents agreed that we should explore the potential for establishing the labor that was originally promised, as they digest the PD&T recommendations of the Task Force report. MUSSA will return for further direction from the Regents at the November meeting (14th -16th in Bozeman). Meanwhile, the Regents were appreciative of MUSSA members’ attendance (in case of questions) at the Task Force presentation later in the day.

MUSSA’s continued discussion:
In discussion with MUSSA, after lunch, Sara France prepared to speak briefly, as classified representative on the Task Force (the invitation to speak having just been received). MUSSA unanimously agreed that the focuses should be: salary and salary comparators; maintaining flexibility to address needs as needs develop and change; the need to address issues on a campus by campus basis; PD&T; and the benefit of MUSSA working together to properly inform staff about the report.

MUSSA also reviewed recent input into MUSSA-member-CEPAC’s 360 Performance Review (which will soon be published at The outcomes show that MUSSA has succeeded in orchestrating more frequent, and very worthwhile, communications among the membership. However there is the suggestion that our time with the Regents could be more productive, and further exploration of how this might be effected will be on MUSSA’s meeting agenda for November. Meanwhile, MUSSA agreed that, if planning communications were sufficiently effective, it could produce a single presentation handout for use with the Board. This will be attempted for November.

Task Force presentation to the Staff and Compensation Committee:
Kevin McRae’s overview of the Task Force report to the Staff and Compensation Committee (Kerra Melvin, Todd Buchanan, Steve Barrett and Chair Clayton Christian) took place at 4.15 pm. Task Force members’ input at the presentation was not coordinated in advance. Shannon Taylor (faculty) spoke about the need for the Regents to address the report’s budgetary, comparator, and locality issues and to find funding for the initiatives. Sara France supported Shannon’s comments and spoke as per the MUSSA directive (above), adapting so as not to repeat Shannon’s speech. Erik Burke (faculty union) spoke at length about faculty salaries in Montana in comparison to other areas. Committee members' remarks included that it could take several biennia to obtain enough money from the legislature (if, indeed, sufficient funding was ever forthcoming) to provide for the recommendations. Also, that the MUS should perhaps consider the long-term viability of campus cities' economies, and the employment market implications of any significant future slump. Shannon made some comments, and Sara referred to last week’s Sonoran Institute presentation in Bozeman where the economist explained why Montana is such a draw, particularly in service industry growth (including public resources/quality of life; and an educated workforce). She noted that many of our campus cities meet the criteria and, all the time our universities graduate students to provide an educated workforce, the need for capable MUS employees will surely only increase. Campus executives encouraged the Committee that now was the time to attempt to obtain more legislative funding as there was, at least currently, a budget surplus and a strong economy. They also acknowledged the hard task before the Board and how the report offers a good start to a huge problem. They expressed how beginning action on even a multi-biennia-plan would help employees see that something is possible, little by little. Chair Christian recognized that compiling a projected cost might be useful. Meanwhile, he moved the topic to discussion with the full Board on Thursday.

Task Force report on the full Board’s agenda:
The Staff and Compensation Committee discussion was third on an agenda of four committee reports beginning at 1:00 pm on Thursday, and was heard at about 3:30 pm. Kevin McRae gave a short overview. Erik, Shannon and Sara spoke again, all along similar lines from the day before although, generally, with more brevity. Regent Barrett said he would take the matter to the Post-Secondary Education Policy and Budget Committee meeting (which MUSSA understands to be a legislative committee) on Tuesday September 25th. In response to the Board's suggestion that cost projections be calculated, the Associate Commissioner for Fiscal Affairs anticipated the numbers to be very large. Regent Pease asked whether any of the report’s recommendations applied more to one campus than to another, and Kevin replied along the lines that the Task Force followed the instruction “one size doesn’t fit all” such that the recommendations could each be applied as appropriate on individual campuses. President Gamble said that the Board's initial action (introduction to the PSEPB Committee) was most welcome and would be appreciated by employees. He (as the Board had done previously) also thanked the Task Force for its work. The Board’s discussion moved to the next topic.

MUSSA is encouraged by the Regents' continued concern for classified issues, and by their initial plans for acting upon the findings of the OCHE Recruitment and Retention Task Force as a whole. Following two days of meetings and discussion as part of the Board of Regents meeting in Billings, MUSSA will:

  • assist in answering staff questions as readers study the report
  • pursue the Pooled Resources manpower issue as per the agreement with the Regents
  • begin planning for the November Board of Regents meeting.

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