How we Feel About St. Thomas

What do you expect – from your family? Your friends? Your employer?

For some reason, I had a number of conversations recently with St. Thomas employees about their feelings regarding the university. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the high unemployment rate. Maybe it’s the overall economic uncertainty. Maybe it’s just that stage in people’s lives and employment.

Attitudes varied.

One administrator who had worked for several different companies found her feelings for St. Thomas unique. The attachment was incredibly strong and positive.
Another administrator and a faculty member told similar stories of considering employment elsewhere but rejecting the move because of the sense of community and shared mission here.

I heard both a faculty member and a staff member express concerns about being asked increasingly to do more and more. I asked why they thought that happened. The answer was that they didn’t think anyone knew quite how much they do. Perhaps there’s a lesson there: we need to make a better effort to realize what other people’s responsibilities are before we ask for more or for different.

A staff member was grateful that in troubled times St. Thomas has not laid anyone off, reduced pay or resorted to involuntary furloughs. Survey data indicate that we all have a similar hierarchy of issues that we complain about in the job. When salary is adequate, we complain about benefits, work conditions, the boss. When the pay is too low, fewer people mention the lesser irritations. Everything pales in comparison with having no job at all.

Another told me that the caring and supportive members of his unit made all the difference to him in his consideration of his employer. I’ve read studies that show the No. 1 factor in how much we enjoy our job is the people with whom we work closely.

A long-time faculty member noted how the sense of commitment has changed over time, observing that newer faculty are less involved. When I suggested that might be because they didn’t have the half-century here that she and I shared, she said the new faculty just didn’t feel appreciated enough; that the evaluation process has created a wedge. I’ve heard similar complaints about the pay-for-performance standards on the staff side. Sometimes it is hard to say how much we appreciate someone for fear of sounding sappy. (Veronica, you do a terrific job and I am grateful.)

I remember in the old days, then-president Terrence Murphy would compare St. Thomas to a family. The implication was that we all pulled together no matter what. When disaster struck one of us, we all pitched in. If we had a fight, we still loved each other.

That may have been true when the institution was smaller and more homogenous. I’m not sure. But by the time I arrived, I don’t think family was an accurate comparison. Most of the time I’ve been here, I’d say the better comparison would be to a small town. Especially with tenure, faculty are unlikely to move out. Young people do move on. When disputes arise, we have to figure out how to live with each other after the storm passes. No one is moving down the road, but there isn’t the tie of love or blood that keeps us together. Fairness is important. When one suffers, others suffer. We know a lot of each other’s business. Okay, we gossip.

Contemplating my employer, I recalled the reasons I came here 28 years ago. The landscaping – it indicated a financially solid institution. The other economists – their interactions told me that St. Thomas is a community of caring and respect. The purple trash cans – I love purple.

The trash cans are gone, but I am still here. Those other two reasons count for a lot.