A biweekly publication for faculty and staff

Departing Staff Advisor to the Regents Reflects on Opportunity

February 17, 2016

Deidre "De" AckerWith a longstanding interest in diversity and employee satisfaction, UC Merced Director of Campus Climate Deidre “De” Acker appreciated the opportunity to improve the climate for staff systemwide when she became staff advisor to the UC Board of Regents in 2014. The experience left a lasting impact on her — and her family — that she didn’t expect.

As the 27-year UC veteran and UC Santa Barbara alumna prepares to complete her term in June, she reflects on her experience and offers advice to those interested in applying for the seat by the March 4 deadline.

What does a staff advisor do?

The staff advisor brings the knowledge of who staff members are to the regents’ discussions. All the regents may not know what staff members do on campuses and the variety of roles that staff members play. We’re an integral part of the university, so we (the staff advisors) provide the constant reminder of the perspective of staff and unique contributions that staff make. For example, when they were forming the LGBT task force, we reminded them they need a staff representative.

What you work on during your term really depends on what’s happening those two years. In the past, there were furloughs and budget cuts and no salary increases, so the staff advisors had an important role in speaking up for staff.

When President Napolitano came, she put into place a regular salary increase program so we didn’t have to fight those battles. I’ve been serving on the president’s Task Force on Preventing and Responding to Sexual Violence and Sexual Assault, and doing a lot of work on that initiative. We’ve also been working on other issues like diversity and campus climate.

UC is a large public research institution. How do you gather input from staff across the system?

We try to visit each campus once in a two-year time period. This (academic) year, we visited the UCPath Center in Riverside, the UC Riverside campus and UC Merced. We are going next to Davis and Berkeley. We meet with chancellors, the heads of human resources, the ombuds — they have a good sense of the climate on campus — and many others. We have an open forum that’s organized by the (campus) staff assembly to talk about what we do and to listen to people. We also meet with (staff) affinity groups.

How much influence do staff advisors have in the regents’ deliberations and decision-making?

It’s difficult to know how much influence we have. We don’t vote in the regents meetings. We give our input, and we get to know individual regents behind the scenes. It’s about relationship and coalition building, and spending time educating them about things staff is working on.

We meet with President Napolitano and her deputy chief of staff every other month. We set the agenda and we talk to her about important issues. She really listens. There have been times where, before we even get out of the office, she’s texting or emailing about things we’ve raised.

We like to say that we plant seeds of ideas. You may not see it sprout in your two years, but they will — over time.

The staff advisor program has been around for 11 years, and it has proven itself. The fact that the student regent looked at this role (when developing their proposed program for a student advisor) showed that the staff advisor role is well thought of — so much so that the students wanted to emulate it.

Tell us about an accomplishment you are proud of.

Something that I’ve been working on for two years is having a UC policy on abusive behavior of a nonsexual nature, or bullying. We hear about that going on at campuses when we visit. We don’t have a UC policy preventing it or saying what to do if you experience it. We raised this issue, and it has been good to have people looking at and starting conversations about preventing this kind of abusive behavior at a systemwide level. President Napolitano is looking at what she can do about it. We want staff to be happy and engaged, and she’s very supportive of that.

What has been the most rewarding part of being staff advisor?

Seeing the commitment of staff members and how hard they work. We hear about workloads being high sometimes, and people wearing multiple hats. Most people love their jobs, love the UC system and want to do a good job. You can see their enthusiasm.

What impact, if any, has the staff advisor experience had on you personally?

I’ve met a lot of people and made lifelong friendships. It’s natural when you have like-minded people coming together for engaging work. There’s this cadre of staff advisor alums who give advice and support and help brainstorm, which has been really good.

Last year, my son was a high school senior. I was able to take him to regents dinners with me and he got to meet chancellors: Henry Yang at UC Santa Barbara, who held him when he was a baby; Howard Gilman from Irvine; Dorothy Leland from Merced; Linda Katehi from Davis; George Blumenthal from Santa Cruz. He’s now a freshman at UC Santa Barbara, and he wants to be a chancellor. That was a lifelong impact on him that I didn’t expect.

What advice would you offer someone interested in serving as staff advisor?

Being a staff advisor is a super opportunity to get a good picture of the whole UC system and be able to make some sort of impact on behalf of staff. You’ve got to be a people person. There is some public speaking and being comfortable with that or having a desire to do that is helpful.

Anyone who wants to apply to be staff advisor has to be ready and have support from their campus. The time commitment is about a week every month, between the regents meetings, campus visits, CUCSA meetings and other meetings. There is a lot of juggling. Take a look at your life and think about, "Is it the right time?"

The two staff advisors work as a team, so when you come in as the staff advisor designate, you’ll be with the other staff advisor who has been there for a year. You can follow them and see how it’s done, so there’s built-in training and also an orientation.

The application period for the next staff advisor to the UC Regents is now open, and eligible employees at all locations are encouraged to apply through March 4. You can learn more about the program and how to apply on the staff advisor website.