May 12, 2021
The Virginia Commonwealth University Staff Senate, which represents and advocates on behalf of VCU’s more than 3,600 staff members, is preparing to hold universitywide elections this summer, providing interested VCU staff with an opportunity to serve their colleagues and a chance for all VCU staff to vote for their representatives.
“The Staff Senate is an organization that cares about staff — their concerns, development and recognition,” said Saher Randhawa, president of the VCU Staff Senate and a social media content strategist in University Public Affairs. “If you care about making things better for your colleagues or care about making a difference at the universitywide level, then this is the organization for you. Not only does your voice and feedback get heard by other colleagues throughout the university, but to those that serve on universitywide committees, and also to senior leadership. You are able to raise concerns, provide feedback on initiatives, help solve problems and help develop policies with your colleagues and leaders from all over VCU, and all from the staff perspective.”
Founded in 1991, the Staff Senate currently allows members to join through self-nomination or through school or departmental appointments. Under the new model, senators will be elected by peers and serve three-year terms.
The university’s 60 major business units have been sorted into “meta-units,” which will serve as districts for the purposes of the election. Each meta-unit is assigned one senate seat per 50 full-time staff employees. Staff members can find their meta-unit by visiting https://staffsenate.vcu.edu/elections/.
The elections process will occur in two phases: a candidate nomination phase, which will begin June 1 and end June 25; and the elections phase, which will begin July 19 and end July 31.
The nomination phases will provide an opportunity for VCU staff members to either nominate themselves or another staff person to run. There is no limit to the number of nominees a meta-unit may put forward.
During the election phase, members of each meta-unit will be able to vote for candidate nominated within their meta-unit to represent them. Ranked-choice voting will be used to elect incoming senators.
Any classified or University and Academic Professional staff person at VCU with at least one year of service is eligible to run. All non-faculty, full-time staff, regardless of service time, will be eligible to vote in the elections.
VCU Health staff currently serve as volunteer non-voting members of the Staff Senate, and that will continue under the new model. The Staff Senate also has established the VCU Health Committee that supports concerns of VCU Health staff.
Existing members of the Staff Senate will have the option of running in the upcoming elections, or may choose to continue serving the first term as senators in addition to the elected senators.
Assistant Vice President for Human Resources Cathleen C. Burke, who serves as liaison for the Staff Senate, said her “hope is that newly elected senators will use their knowledge and skills to further expand the strong vision, support and voice that the Staff Senate provides employees at VCU.”
“The Staff Senate remains a vital partnership for VCU leaders as their important input shapes the outcome of university initiatives,” she said. “I’m looking forward to working with the newly elected staff senators in 2021 and beyond.”
In moving to an elected model, Randhawa said, the Staff Senate will have greater diversity and better reflect VCU’s workforce, allowing the Senate to be a more effective voice in advocating on behalf of staff and in working with VCU senior leadership on issues of concern.
“The elections will provide the Staff Senate an opportunity to include representation from all areas of the university, not just those that staff have volunteered from,” she said. “As a representative body of staff at VCU, it's important that we include voices from every area, and the elections will allow us to ensure we have representation from each meta-unit.”
The Staff Senate provides staff representatives for committees and other important positions across VCU. An elected Staff Senate will ensure that these representatives reflect every area of VCU, and will ensure that staff voices are more clearly heard in the decision making process at VCU, said Nick Fetzer, immediate past president of the Staff Senate and senior director of finance and administration for VCU Life Sciences.
“The role of Staff Senate is to contribute to the VCU community by serving the institution and representing staff members in the VCU governance process. A big part of that job is being an effective communications channel between staff and senior leadership. Elections help create a more representative Senate through which these communications can occur,” Fetzer said. “These elections are a way for our staff members to ensure their representatives are sensitive to their needs and will be effective communicators of those needs as decisions are being made.”
In addition to serving as the staff’s representatives in university governance and decision making, the Staff Senate also plays an important role in supporting and recognizing VCU staff.
In partnership with Human Resources, the senate organizes and hosts a career development conference each year. This year’s conference, “Together We Transform,” featured nearly 40 virtual sessions and keynote addresses throughout March.
The senate also sponsors the annual VCU Staff Senate Awards of Excellence, which recognize VCU and VCU Health staff members for professional integrity, diversity and inclusion, career achievement, exceptional customer service and more.
Each year the senate also organizes an Employee Appreciation Celebration, which offers a variety of discounts at VCU and in the community for VCU and VCU Health employees.
It also has had an impact in advocating for staff and facilitating dialogue between VCU staff and university leadership. In spring 2020, it organized a virtual meeting attended by nearly 700 VCU staff and VCU leadership to address concerns and answer questions amid the pandemic.
For those considering running in the upcoming election, Fetzer said there is no better way to have an impact as a staff person at VCU.
“If you've ever thought to yourself: ‘That policy isn't all that great’ or ‘I can think of a better way to accomplish that’ or ‘I wish senior leadership were aware of this issue,’ then you will find no better place to make those changes than the Staff Senate,” he said. “The team you will join is full of individuals who want the best of our community and work hard to identify problems to fix, and recognize greatness. It's incredibly rewarding work.”
For full-time classified or University and Academic Professional staff members with at least one year of service who are interested in running for Staff Senate, please visit https://staffsenate.vcu.edu/elections/.
Additionally, the Staff Senate will host a town hall via Zoom on Tuesday, May 25 at noon to answer questions and provide information about the upcoming elections process. For details and the Zoom link, please visit https://staffsenate.vcu.edu/elections/#townhall.
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