They cook, they manage budgets, they direct student activities, they send faxes, they pay students, they make copies, they juggle calendars, they write prescriptions, and at the University of Montana, they are over one thousand strong. Yet they—the staff members of UM—are sometimes overlooked. They are not mentioned in a 13-page “discussion draft” from the Economic Development Action Group that touts education, including UM, as an engine for eco- nomic growth. They read articles and editorials that discuss faculty, students and administrators as if those were the only three components of the university system. They were missing from a Board of Regents fact sheet provided to legislators.
“We are definitely omitted without a doubt from all the lobbying efforts,” says Mary Kamensky, an administrative officer in the graduate school—and a staff member. “It’s not that we’re pointing the finger and blaming them. We’re just not thought about.”
Not for long, perhaps. When Kamensky woke up one morning and realized staff’s invisibility, she decided to try to make them less so. One and a half weeks later, she made a presentation to the staff senate—elected to represent staff issues on campus—about a visibility campaign. It was simple—a logo that staff could wear on pins or sweatshirts, or print on stickers—but it hit home with her audience. “They clapped,” she says of the senate. “It was really surprising. I was really nervous because I had never been to staff senate.”
“I think that they just hit the mark,” says Cheryl Bramsen, a student loan counselor who has worked at UM for 17 years.
If the grizzly bear is UM’s logo, and the administrators are often thought of as the head, staff decided they were the “heart of the grizzly.”
“We’re the lifeblood of the univer- sity,” says Kamensky. “The whole infrastructure is run by staff.” For every faculty member, she says, there are three staff. Though enrollment has grown from 8,500 to 13,000 in the almost 20 years she has worked at UM, “there has not, in most cases, been a corresponding increase in the number of staff.” In fact, she says, financial aid has lost staff.
So it’s important that people understand what these employees do, she says. “If people don’t know what you do, they can’t value your work,” Kamensky says. “If your work is not valued, you will not be paid for it.” Granted, she says, staff won’t be asking the state for money this year. But Bramsen, member of a UM legislative committee, says there’s another reason visibility is important: “I think that respect is probably part of it.”
Beverly Brooks, chair of staff senate, says that creating an identity is important because university employees are different from other state employees.
“State agencies have that captive customer base whereas we don’t,” she says. “We have to recruit.”
A logo is close to being finalized, says Brooks. She hopes to see a pin classy enough that people want to wear it. She hopes that when she wears her pin, inquisitive students will ask her about it. Chances are probably good. “Typically,” says Brooks, “a student sees staff more than anyone else on campus.”