July 1, 2011

Conversions of Researcher Staff
to Civil Service Causes Concerns

Faculty who have research grants and need to fill research positions with people 
who have specialized skills are concerned about conversion of APs to Civil Service.

By Monica M. Walk

AS ACADEMIC Professional positions at UIC continue to be evaluated and converted to Civil Service positions when deemed appropriate and as required by law, new questions emerge concerning the ways that changing the status of employees working in support of research may affect the research process in this highly ranked research University.

“I THINK one concern is whether faculty who have research grants and need to fill research positions with people who have specialized skills or experience in a particular type of research will be able to do so,” said Dr. Phil Patston, secretary of the UIC Faculty Senate and chair of its executive committee, and associate professor in the UIC College of Dentistry.  “If they cannot hire people with the right skill set, then their whole research enterprise could be threatened.”

ASSOCIATE VICE President for Human Resources Maureen Parks acknowledges that the full scope of converting positions in research areas will not be fully clear until all Academic Professional positions are analyzed. 

“NOW, THE majority in research are not Civil Service, but that may change,” she said. “We don’t know if that will change until we analyze the jobs. If the job does clerical work, it likely will be Civil Service; if they are doing analysis, probably not. But, clerical isn’t the only type of Civil Service work:  there are highly skilled and qualified employees in Civil Service positions across the campus. Civil Service personnel are a very important part of the University of Illinois. Every employee group contributes to its overall mission. The work is good and valuable.

“IT IS a matter of figuring out if duties and responsibilities meet Civil Service criteria:  If they do, we may need to convert them; if they don’t, we won’t,” she said.

PARKS EMPHASIZED that classifying positions depends on the job duties and responsibilities attached to a position. “Each situation can be unique and should be judged on its own merits,” she said. “We have to know the facts for each situation.”

THE CURRENT Civil Service process of seniority “bumping” indicates a less than smooth transition possibility for some jobs.

“WE CONSTANTLY hear concern about people on grant funding, and concern about bumping and qualifications,” Parks acknowledged.

TO RECTIFY that concern, the University will be looking into proposing a project to the Civil Service System to better define research positions and to address seniority for people hired new in the future.

“WE ARE trying to come up with a way to limit the bumping impact of positions funded by research,” Parks said. “I am talking with the Civil Service System about ways to handle this so there is less impact on persons and research. We are asking the Civil Service System to help us create a category and process for grant-funded positions to address this.

AS PARKS explained, currently if a grant runs out and there is no other similar work and no funding, an employee with seniority can “bump” into another position when he or she has more seniority than the current job holder. Parks described this possibility as “distasteful” for the researcher and for the person doing the bumping, as this individual may or may not have the exact skills necessary to support the research or to have personal job success.  “We want people to feel they have the opportunity to succeed,” she said.

CAREFULLY DEFINING position qualifications for both Academic Professional and Civil Service jobs will be a key factor in the process. 

QUALIFICATIONS CALLED “specialty factors” can be attached to Civil Service positions; these factors spell out specific experience and abilities needed to fill a job, either through hiring or in a bumping situation. For example, a position as a customer service representative may have Spanish language skills required as a specialty factor; for a person with seniority to bump into that department and position, he or she would need to be able to speak Spanish.

“THERE ARE ways to be very specific in the position requirements to meet the needs of the hiring unit,” Parks said.  Carefully defining and differentiating the skills needed for a position and hiring the best person for the job provides protection from bumping problems that could arise.  “If I’m a hiring manager, I want to very carefully attach specifying factors to help describe the requirements needed for my position to ensure that the person in the position can do the job, Parks said.

SHE ALSO noted that employees have choices about taking new positions when a bumping situation arises. 

WHEN A Civil Service employee position is eliminated when funding ends, that employee receives a letter of notification about the situation.  The letter includes information about seniority and instructions to contact the Human Resources department to discuss this. At Human Resources, the employee will learn about positions he or she could bump to, and then meets with members of the new department to learn about the specifics of the job.  At that point, the employee may choose to take the bump, or if the position does not feel like a good fit, he or she could look among the other open Civil Service positions at the University.  A third option is to apply for an open Academic Professional position at the University, if the employee has a bachelor’s degree and meets the qualifications for the open position.

AS MORE units undergo position review and positions are converted from Academic Professional to Civil Service, managers new to supervising Civil Service employees will have more frequent opportunities to take training sessions, Parks reported.

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