Six people in boxes on a screen.
Six campus leaders fielded over 50 questions from nearly 1,500 viewers during the 90-minute virtual event. Photo: Jennie Brewton/UCI

Before an online audience of nearly 1,500, Chancellor Howard Gillman and other UCI leaders hosted a town hall Wednesday, sharing information on the university’s newly refreshed strategic plan, the campus financial stability road map and the future of work. Gillman was joined by Hal Stern, provost and executive vice chancellor; Ramona Agrela, vice chancellor for human resources and chief human resources officer; Georg Striedter, Academic Senate chair; Lou Gill, Staff Assembly chair; and Mary Lou Ortiz, vice chancellor for finance and administration and chief financial officer. Several dozen questions from the audience were addressed, with the majority focusing on the budget, staff housing, remote/hybrid work, salaries and the Program in Public Health. Gillman kicked it off by noting that there was much to celebrate over the past year but that challenges remain.

Striedter then provided updates applying to both staff and faculty:

  1. There is a new, systemwide abusive conduct policy that extends protections beyond sexual harassment and violence to other forms of violence, such as staff being bullied by a faculty member. Training modules are available for this policy.
  2. The Academic Senate is working closely with the provost’s office on the campus budget deficit and the strategic allocation of resources.
  3. There is a new contract with graduate student teaching assistants and researchers. A senate task force has been created to study the issue and make recommendations, with reports to be released very soon.
  4. Faculty members are under significant stress, and efforts are underway to determine whether this collective depression is a fleeting thing or a lasting thing. There is work being done at the systemwide level about faculty morale. “We’re not sure where it comes from, but it’s an important issue,” Striedter said. “UCI must be watered regularly like a plant.”

Gill detailed some of the ways in which Staff Assembly supports staff:

  1. It provides a voice to leadership.
  2. Delegates from each UC campus meet quarterly on a systemwide level.
  3. Staff have input into campus systems, processes, committees and work groups.
  4. The assembly awards scholarships; 13 Mike Puritz Career Enhancement Scholarships have been presented this year.
  5. Staff engagement is fostered through such events as the staff picnic and Excellence in Leadership Awards. Gill encouraged staff members to get involved. The website has additional information for those who want to learn more or help out.

Stern shared budget updates, noting that a year ago, the campus was facing a structural deficit of $90 million because funding sources were not keeping pace with funding uses. Cost increases in salaries and benefits have eroded income. A positive impact is the UC Tuition Stability Plan, which provides a tuition increase on a regular basis. And there was a 3 percent across-the-board cut, with another one coming next year, that will address two-thirds of the budget deficit. The UCI Budget Office has a financial stability page with additional information.

Strategic plan refresh

The Brilliant Future strategic plan for UCI was released in 2016 with four pillars, or emphases. Over the last few years, some goals were achieved and circumstances also changed, so a revamp was needed. A working group was assembled to do this, and the revised document can be found online here.

The refresh includes such objectives as building out the Susan & Henry Samueli College of Health Sciences, maintaining a focus on sustainability, continuing to grow the research enterprise, leveraging data to support student success and further cultivating partnerships with the community.

Stern also provided updates on the proposed School of Population and Public Health, the North Campus construction and the future of graduate education under the new union contract.

Work Reimagined is here to stay

Agrela shared that as UCI has implemented its vision for a flexible work environment, several themes have emerged: Worker sentiment is positive, turnover is lower, productivity is enhanced, the talent pool has expanded and training on hybrid leadership skills was well received. More than 500 supervisors attended Work Reimagined workshops, and the evaluation scores were high. Many staff noted at the town hall that they feel connected to UCI whether they’re working on-site or at home. Saving money on gas and parking was noted as a benefit of remote work, though some lamented the loss of hallway conversations and having to rely more on email.

Overall, worker engagement has remained steady since 2021, and work flexibility is a main reason new employees join UCI and current ones stay. Remote workers report more satisfaction with their job experience than hybrid and on-site workers. But flexibility goes both ways. It has been essential to the program’s success that staff are responsive to faculty, students and colleagues during core hours of the day regardless of their work location.

There is room for improvement, however: creating a better sense of community, enhancing flexible options for fully on-site workers, advancing supervisor leadership skills and offering more career development resources.

Agrela emphasized that there are no plans for layoffs at this time and that the 4.6 percent salary adjustment will appear in August paychecks.

Other topics

Many viewers submitted questions before and during the live event. The panel of speakers addressed as many of those as possible. Topics included work space in Research Park versus on campus, increasing graduate programs, faculty and staff housing, parking, artificial intelligence, and faculty well-being.

Gillman closed the town hall by saying, “Please be proud of the important work this campus does serving people in our community and creating a better place for everyone. Thank you for everything that you do.”

The event was co-sponsored by the Office of the Chancellor, the Academic Senate and Staff Assembly. For those who missed it, the replay link is available for viewing.