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March 5, 2007

Blumenthal addresses wide variety of issues at Staff Brown-Bag Forum

By Guy Lasnier

Acting Chancellor George Blumenthal took questions on town/gown relations, e-mail troubles, and wages for the lowest paid workers during the Winter Quarter Staff Brown-Bag Forum held by the Staff Advisory Board Feb. 27.

Listen to a webcast of Acting Chancellor Blumenthal's talk at the Staff Advisory Board web site.

In opening remarks Blumenthal talked about the growing use of commute alternatives, staff advisers to the UC Board of Regents, retirement fund contributions, and diversity efforts systemwide.

An external review of the campus e-mail system is under way, Blumenthal said, in response to questions about  e-mail outages, including one last month lasting 24 hours. A report is expected within two or three months. Further, Larry Merkley, vice provost for information technology, has proposed a staff forum to discuss workplace technology issues. 

Blumenthal said employee contributions to the retirement system are still inevitable but may be a year away. An earlier prediction that they would have to begin in July 2007 has been affected by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's not including money in the state budget for the UC system to contribute its share. Blumenthal said he thought “it would be extremely unfair to expect the employees to contribute if the employer is not.”

On wages for low-paid workers, Blumenthal said money has been identified to boost wages locally and negotiations are under way at the UC Office of the President with unions representing the workers. Once that is settled, workers could receive a UC increase and a UCSC increase, he said.

He also told the approximately 200 staff members who gathered for the forum that he wants to see a UCSC staff member as staff adviser to the UC Regents. The Regents decided to make the staff position on the board permanent after a two-year temporary experiment. A UCSC staff member “would bring a different perspective to the board,” he said. “Santa Cruz should rule at the Board of Regents.”

In his opening remarks, Blumenthal thanked staff members who get to work using alternate means of transportation. The number of car trips to campus has dropped to levels not seen since fall of 1999, he said. Figures from Transportation and Parking Services show that on a typical workday more than 630 people carpool, 400 ride Metro, about 220 use one of 20 vanpools the university offers and an unknown number ride bikes--some using the bike shuttle--or walk. A new Monterey-area vanpool has begun.

“The number of trips is down 3,000 even though the campus has grown,’’ Blumenthal said.

On the subject of town/gown relations, Blumenthal described his meetings with neighborhood groups, often focused on the subject of parties. “One hears a slightly different perspective when you hear it from neighbors than from politicians,’’ he said. He also described a recent Friday night “ride-along” in a Santa Cruz Police Department patrol car with Santa Cruz Mayor Emily Reilly to see the late-night party scene firsthand.

He said the campus and city are working together on a number of issues including locating space for business incubators that could leverage university research and boost the local economy.


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