Longtime UCSF Staff Advocate to Join Board of Regents in July

By Lisa Cisneros on May 25, 2005

David Bell

UCSF's David Bell will be one of the first two staff employees to serve as non-voting advisers to the UC Board of Regents this July. The Regents approved the new pilot program in January to increase UC staff involvement in their deliberations. "I'm eager for this program to begin, as I believe that ongoing, two-way communication - at all levels of the organization - is critical to our success," said UC President Robert Dynes. "Enhanced communication between the Board of Regents and the staff will benefit both the Regents and the University as a whole." Dynes himself named Bell and Dave Miller, current chair of the Council of UC Staff Assemblies (CUCSA) from UCLA, to serve in this new role. Both Bell and Miller are the most recent chairs of CUCSA, a 28-member board with representatives from all 10 UC campuses and laboratories. Both men have demonstrated strong leadership with CUCSA, built collegial relationships with the Regents, and understand the process and protocols of the Regents' meetings. A 27-year employee of UCSF, Bell works as communication liaison with the Work~Life Resource Center, serves on the Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Issues and the Academic Business Officers Group steering committee. He has been a member of the diversity week committee. Bell won the 2004 Chancellor's Award for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Leadership at UCSF, in part for his leadership at the UCSF Staff Council and CUCSA, and is recognized for his role in supporting equity for same-sex-partnered staff throughout the UC system. He was active in both the 1997 achievement of domestic health benefits and the 2002 equalization of retirement benefits at UC. Bell's one-year term as staff adviser begins July 1, and he will take a seat at the table of the Regents meeting for the first time on July 20 at UCSF Laurel Heights. He will attend all open session meetings of the board and the Committee on Educational Policy. For Bell and those who have been longtime UC staff leaders, joining faculty, students and Regents on the board of one of the greatest universities in the world is a historic honor. In fact, Bell and others have been working for staff representation on the board since 1994, when the topic was first discussed with the Regents. "This is an amazing accomplishment," said Bell. "It speaks very well for both the staff and UC to just gain the trust of UC leaders. We did it step by step." Indeed, now that he and Miller have their foot in the door, Bell says he welcomes input from the campus community on the issues that concern them. He will not be able to vote or sit in on closed sessions nor even address Regents on issues, such as wages or working conditions, since he will serve solely on the education committee. But he hopes to make a difference in that area by advocating for a discount on a UC education for dependents of UC employees. Bell is fortunate to have the ardent support of his boss, Alma Sisco-Smith, director of the Work~Life Resource Center (WLRC). "One can readily see why David is such an asset to UC and to the WLRC. President Dynes sent a letter thanking me as David's supervisor for my commitment to his participation. Yet, look at his contributions. They directly improve work-life. So we are the beneficiaries of his work. A manager can ask for no more." In a recent interview, Bell, a native of Pennsylvania, answered these questions: What are your three top priorities in serving as a staff representative on the UC Board of Regents? My top priority will be to do everything to assure that this pilot is successful, which would lead to the ultimate goal of a permanent staff Regent. Another is to respond to my assigned appointment to the Committee on Educational Policy. There I hope to be fully engaged and be a strong contributor to the discussions on comprehensive review, the California Master Plan for Education and other topics. As we know, the sands are constantly shifting in this dynamic climate. I hope to be nimble and resilient in my ability to contribute. My colleague and counterpart, Dave Miller from UCLA, is assigned to the Committee for Buildings and Grounds. Another priority is to be accessible to my constituency: to develop a means of communication that would include campus visits and visiting various staff associations. Staff are a third of the institution, but are the one constituency that stays here - we see faculty leave, we see students come and go. But staff, for the most part, stay here and that assures consistency - they hold the institutional knowledge necessary to a successful university. One of the areas that might be re-introduced in the coming year is the Educational Fee Waiver for dependents of UC employees. CUCSA has been advocating for this policy, along with the Faculty Welfare Committee, for several years. With the improving economy, it seems like the time is ripe for the discussion to be revisited and the program to be implemented. A fee waiver for dependents of UC employees would send a strong message to staff and faculty that they are valued and that we want our employees' families to be part of the UC family. When and why did you get involved with staff issues at UCSF? First, let me say that I was raised in a family where civic duty was instilled. I'm grateful for that upbringing and as such have always been involved in my communities. That being said, when I first came to UCSF, I felt there was a need for me to be involved. At that time I had many friends dying from AIDS and I saw UC employees struggle with how they would take care of their loved ones. So I first got involved in serving on the committee to study a possible catastrophic leave program - which is now well in place. Ours was used as a model for other campuses. There were many other issues that compelled me to get involved, including my favorite topics of responsible ethics and civility. UCSF Staff Council spearheaded the "Civility Dilemma" lecture in 1998 and a year later sponsored a talk titled "Responsible Ethics in the University Setting." I would like to see more activity in the area of good faculty- and staff-relations. There are many ways staff can and do contribute to the greatness of the institution. What are some of CUCSA's greatest accomplishments? I would say our greatest accomplishment is the staff adviser appointment -- with its underpinnings of improved communications between staff, the Regents and the Office of the President. Many, many people contributed to this accomplishment - and they are not all staff. We had wonderful champions in the faculty, with the students and on the board. This achievement took many years. I believe it was 10 to 15 years ago that these discussions first started, but it would be impossible for me to name everyone involved in making this happen. Another great accomplishment was gaining the trust of the Office of the President and the Board of Regents. We did that by initiating the conversations and inviting them to our meetings. We are now in a position where we believe they value and trust the staff voice and encourage collaboration. This is a huge accomplishment. On the more practical side, CUCSA was instrumental in developing with the Academic Senate the Faculty Staff Partnership Report in 1999 - a groundbreaking report on relations between faculty and staff, exploring ways in which more interaction between these two groups can improve relations and performance at UC. There is more work to be done with this concept, but the initial work is done and still has a great deal of value. CUCSA also played a critical role in the development of domestic partnership policies and assuring the votes on the board. We have been told many times by former Regent Ward Connerly -- who was the pivotal vote on this issue -- that it was his visit to CUCSA the day before the board vote that convinced him that domestic partners was the "right thing to do." We've also assisted the UC Office of the President (UCOP) in development of the Business Officers Institute and the Human Resources Management Initiative. Most recently, CUCSA contributed to the development of the new UC Leadership Institute. We have issued a number of white papers on issues important to staff, such as housing, mentoring and workforce evolution - a multi-year project focused on succession planning and retention. The latter is a collaborative effort with UCOP Human Resources and Benefits. As I mentioned earlier, we have the fee waiver on the back burner. And there are many other ways CUCSA makes contributions to UC in terms of good will. How would you assess staff morale at UC or UCSF? Recently, President Dynes addressed the California Legislative Subcommittee on Higher Education in regard to state funding for the UC, and described morale as "devastating" in light of budget cuts, program cuts and salary stagnation. "Staff morale has been the lowest I have seen it at the University," he said. But the answer to that question really depends on who you ask. It's varied, of course. I think employees are happy with the working environment at UCSF and at UC in general. Most employees have a lot of pride in the accomplishments of UC, and I see that when I move around the state. When the supportive work environment initiative was rolled out here at UCSF, we sensed that employee morale had improved as a result of the initiative. There was excitement about the supportive work environment that was borne out by the improvements in the employee opinion survey between 2001 and 2002. Has the supportive work environment issue reached a plateau, or can we expect any more significant improvements? Even though "the song has ended" -- so to speak - the melody lingers on. We planted a seed. I say that to mean that while the supportive work environment has rolled out various successful programs, we are now looking at ways to make that seed grow and develop deep roots into the organization: that the concept of a supportive work environment is engrained in our culture; that we make it sustaining an infrastructure that supports cultural and organizational shifts. We -and I mean the collaborative we - at UCSF are working diligently to make sure that the quality of life at UCSF is such that it makes UCSF the institution of choice for faculty, staff and students. We want to maintain a culture that makes folks come here to do their best learning and work. Source: Lisa Cisneros