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Poe hopes to revitalize Staff Senate

By Chris Pugh

Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 35 - July 16, 1998

During his term as president of the Staff Senate, Ben Poe would like to restructure the organization to more accurately represent members. Once that is accomplished, Poe is convinced the group will be able to take a meaningful role in the administrative system already in place at the university.
Poe, who took office in late June, is a computer systems engineer in the department of mechanical engineering. In the 11 years he's worked at Virginia Tech he's come to believe in the self-governance structure represented by faculty associations, student associations and staff associations. Over the years he's also watched growth and re-arrangement at the university confuse and jumble the staff organizations that were once a foundation of self-governance.
"Groups that were once in the same building or the same area have moved around," Poe explained. "Now they are spread out. They have experienced a loss of identity."
Now it is more difficult for an association's members to get together. Worse yet, they may have lost the common concerns that once united them, he said. "Some associations are very active and some are really out of touch with each other. Some are actually hanging by a thread," he said. Heavier work loads have also captured people's time, Poe said. "After years of budget cuts, attending a meeting is just one more responsibility that folks don't want."
In addition, meeting times--usually at 5:30 p.m.--are often inconvenient for the many employees who are parents and who have child-care responsibilities right after work, Poe said. He thinks some adjustment to meeting times would also boost involvement in staff government.
The failure of the staff structure to keep up with the changing university picture means a breakdown in dialogue, Poe said. "We've lost our communication--our link to each other." It is in regular, well-attended meetings that issues concerning employees can begin to be addressed, Poe said. "There is almost always some issue on people's minds," he said. "And if there is not, just bring up parking."
The Staff Senate, over which Poe presides, is made up of representatives of each of the individual staff associations. There could be as many as 52 senators, he said, but the eight active associations fill only 28 positions at this time. Often it is difficult to gather even a quorum of 15 for the senate's monthly meeting, Poe said.
Staff organizations serve more than a just a political function, he explained. They also serve as a social unit--linking co-workers for picnics, and holiday events. In the past staff associations have worked together for community projects as well, sponsoring Bloodmobiles, filling food banks and adopting Christmas projects. All the more reason to get the groups going again, Poe said.
How does he plan to accomplish that? Taking a deep breath, Poe addressed what he sees as the only solution. "I'm going to have to work with the inactive associations and try to get them re-organized. We'll have to do some re-grouping to develop some sort of cohesive association in each area. I'll work through the deans and department heads to try and emphasize how important these groups are. I'm not above begging and pleading," he added with a smile.
Poe is committed to resurrecting the staff organizations, although he knows it will take his time--time that could be spent with his family. Poe commutes to Wolf Creek, between Narrows and Rocky Gap
With 10 hours a week already spent on the road, Poe is not looking forward to more personal time being taken up with Staff Senate activities. But he says he'll make the sacrifice this year because he believes so strongly in what the group can do if it gets organized.
Poe also believes the administration will champion his efforts. He said President Paul Torgersen has plans to write a letter this fall to supervisors encouraging them to support staff involvement in self-governance organizations.
"The Staff Senate makes some administrators nervous," Poe said, "because they see it as a bargaining unit." That is not what he has in mind, but he does want the organization to use available avenues for communication.
Last year, as vice president of the Staff Senate, Poe attended bi-weekly University Council meetings, where faculty and student groups have a chance for input with the administration. It was this experience that convinced him now is the time for renewed activity by the Staff Senate and associations.
"The door is slowly opening," he said "and we have a chance to be one of the voices that helps establish policy."