To the Faculty and Staff of Washington and Lee:
When I returned to Washington and Lee as president in July 2006, I learned quickly from faculty and staff—including friends and former colleagues—that the campus climate and the work environment were not what we had always aspired to and so often achieved. People described the problem differently and gave different reasons, but there was no denying what I saw as a unifying theme.
Many employees did not feel supported or encouraged in their work. Many employees felt uncertain about W&L’s commitment to their professional lives. Women especially voiced concerns about the overall climate, the lack of opportunities for them in the administrative ranks, the difficulty for advancement, and the feeling that they were constantly swimming against the current in order to do their best work.
The concerns were not limited to women. As the Committee on Women, one of the task forces whose efforts are part of the foundation of this initiative, wrote in its report, “[M]any of the climate issues regarding women are not women’s issues, per se, but rather issues of community, inclusiveness and respect for individuals and other minority groups. [They] voiced many of the same concerns as women who feel excluded (p. 13).” One respondent told Mercer Human Resource Consulting, “We teach our students the values of this institution—honor, civility, respect, etc.—but we don’t honor it to our employees.” Among the findings of the Mercer study: “Given the lack of trust and a perception that people are not treated equally, there has been a move away from personal interaction and an increased need to go through informal channels to get things accomplished and decided.”
It was time for the University to assess and improve the work climate. If you, our employees, treat your positions as more than just a job, as we all should, then the University should treat you as more than just employees. Our vision statement proclaims our “climate of learning that stresses the importance of the individuals, personal honor and integrity, (and) harmonious relationships with others.” We were falling short of that vision.
As I met with employees in fall of 2006, several related areas of concern emerged. To provide in-depth analysis and specific recommendations, I appointed three committees:
I am extremely grateful to the 30 members of the faculty and staff—our colleagues—who committed much time, energy and expertise to these complex and interrelated issues. I especially thank Associate Dean Elizabeth Knapp, Associate Dean Sidney Evans, and Professor Elizabeth Oliver, who served as chairs of the three committees, respectively.
I also commissioned Mercer Human Resource Consulting to address key issues in the important area of human resources. Dean Larry Peppers chaired a group of employees who worked with Mercer, and I am grateful to him and those who served on that committee.
I also thank all members of our faculty and staff who responded to numerous surveys and provided information to these groups.
The analysis and the recommendations in each of the four reports are the basis for our work-life initiative.
This comprehensive and ambitious proposal responds to a complex issue. I know the problem will not be solved overnight, and we still have more to do. But I am convinced that these steps will take us far down a path of restoring trust and confidence among our employees, and they will demonstrate that this institution cares about and supports those dedicated to the mission of educating exceptional students.
In the end, the initiative’s success cannot rest on any single item, but rather on the total change in approach and philosophy it represents. Not every good idea that arose these last two years could be included, and you might disagree with some of the specific steps that are included. But I am confident that the campus community will widely share the goals and objectives, and I hope that we can work together to pursue this ambitious and ongoing agenda.
This is a new way of thinking about employment at W&L, one that derives its basic values of community and compassion from the past while also recognizing the changing professional and personal demands on our employees in this day and age. I look forward to joining with all of you as we take up the many tasks composing the initiative.
This report is divided into two sections: an overview of the three basic principles that will guide us, and an outline of the many specific steps we have taken and will take to fulfill those principles.
Kenneth P. Ruscio