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A recent University memo asked employees not to speak directly to media and to refer all media inquiries to the relevant University offices. Provost Chris Clemens said at the Employee Forum meeting on Wednesday that this memo was not intended to prevent staff from speaking on campus issues.

Staff and administration also discussed staff salary range caps, free speech policies and updates to campus lead testing.

What’s new?

  • University Policy Analyst Matthew Teal asked Clemens about the memo, which stated that employees should direct all media requests to the Finance and Operations communications team or University Communications.
    • Clemens said he did not want to comment on the specific memo, but he does not think employees can be told they can not speak to the media, as long as they were not speaking on behalf of the University.
      • “There's an institutional risk if you, as an employee, speak to the media as a UNC-affiliated employee about UNC, other than to give your personal opinion,” Clemens said.
    • He apologized if anyone took the memo to mean that they would have their speech suppressed, as that’s not what he intended.
    • Vice Chancellor for Human Resources and Equal Opportunity and Compliance Becci Menghini said the memo is similar to what several departments send out at the start of each school year. 
      • “They are intended to ensure that we just be on the same page,” Menghini said. “They’re not intended to squelch people’s personal speech, for all the reasons we discussed earlier.” 
  • Menghini said the University is currently planning how it will allocate recently acquired labor market adjustment reserve funds for UNC employee salaries. 
    • Menghini said state rules for current salaries under North Carolina’s career-banding system are dependent on percentage of market value. However, Katie Musgrove, chairperson of the Employee Forum said that those market values are based on old data. 
    • The career-banding system establishes statewide salary ranges for specific classifications of employees. The last time salary ranges were updated for housekeepers was in 2018, when the minimum salary was raised to $31,200 per year— the minimum among all state employees. 
      • Menghini said all UNC housekeepers are at the top of the range allocated in the career salary bands. The University is planning for future increases, she said, but can’t do anything right now to adjust pay.  
      • “There is broad support for doing something, but we have no authority to do something at this moment,” Menghini said. 
  • Michael Gerhardt, a law professor, presented free speech policies to the forum. 
    • Gerhardt said that the University does have some ability to control or place conditions on the kinds of speech that can be officially expressed on campus.
      • “If the University is trying to limit time, place or manner — just time of day, how you do it and where you may do it — if the University is doing that, that’s going to be okay,” Gerhardt said. “It’ll be constitutional.” 
      • However, any limitations or restrictions have to be “even-handed” or viewpoint-neutral, Gerhardt said. 
    • Gerhardt said staff members should be protected by the First Amendment when speaking for themselves, not for the University.
      • “What the University cannot do is tell people what to think and say in their private lives or private capacity,” Gerhardt said. 
  • Vice Provost for Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer Leah Cox said UNC’s Campus Climate Survey is accepting responses until Nov. 18.
    • She said a diversity and inclusion campus climate survey has not been conducted since 2016.
    • “We want to hear the good and the bad because that's the only way that we can start making sure that we're addressing some of the issues on campus,” Cox said.
  • The University has moved on to phase 3 of campus lead testing, which includes buildings constructed in or before 1990, said Vice Chancellor for Institutional Integrity and Risk Management George Battle.
    • He said, to his knowledge, there has not been previous large-scale lead testing across University buildings.
    • UNC is determining what actions to take on a building-by-building basis — completely replacing or repairing all fixtures or working to solve a larger pipe problem, Battle said
      • “When we found there were so many fixtures in Spencer (Residence Hall) that had evidence of some lead, that led us to think ‘Okay, it's not just a fixture problem, it is a piping problem,’” Battle said. “And so that yielded a different investigation.”
    • Rebecca Fry, a professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, said there has not been any "concerning blood levels" from UNC student and staff lead testing.

What’s next?

The Employee Forum will next meet on Dec. 7. 


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