Department Priorities

Several years ago, in reading support staff Employee Annual Review documents, it became apparent that some problems were occurring because of a lack of clarity over how departmental work should be prioritized. We hope that this document will be useful in assisting departments and their support staff think creatively about the day-to-day decisions that determine how departmental work is completed. Importantly, California law stipulates an 8-hour work day. Attached to this document are policies regarding overtime and compensatory time.

It is the responsibility of departmental secretaries to arrange their work schedules so that more important tasks are completed before others that are less crucial. Sometimes this means that they will have to tell faculty that a particular project cannot be completed right away. Faculty should not place secretaries in the awkward position of demanding that they perform lower-priority work ahead of higher-priority needs. This also means that faculty members need to plan ahead and give secretaries sufficient lead time to enable them to do their work in an orderly manner. At the same time, emergencies will occur from time to time, and everyone needs to approach such situations with flexibility, grace, and good will. Department chairs and secretaries should discuss such questions periodically (in conjunction with wider conversations between the chair and other departmental faculty)—to insure that everyone is on the same page about which departmental work takes precedence. Departments should also talk periodically about work styles and related matters to see that academic offices run harmoniously.

In hopes of facilitating such discussions, we propose the following general priority guidelines for your consideration. Obviously, these categories of work represent guidelines, not hard and fast rules; however, having such guidelines in place should enable us to avoid some problems that seem to be occurring at present.

Please note that these guidelines apply primarily to projects and not to such ongoing functions as making appointments, transmitting phone messages, and so on.

Priority I - Preparation of course-related materials.

  1. Exams and other time-driven handouts.
  2. Preparation of teaching aids (e.g., overhead transparencies).
  3. Course syllabi and other such “major” course handouts.
  4. Routine or “minor” class handouts.
  5. Book orders, etc.

Priority II - Student-related time-driven work.

  1. Work related to individual student advising, registration, course changes, etc.
  2. Departmental correspondence relating to students.
  3. Time-driven correspondence or other work relating to student recruitment.

Priority III - Time-driven important departmental business.

  1. Annual departmental budget forms, departmental course schedules, etc.
  2. Student-related departmental work such as honors forms, etc.
  3. Other departmental work with inflexible deadlines.
  4. Time-driven departmental correspondence

Priority IV - Work relating to faculty development—especially where time-driven.

  1. Work associated with obtaining research support—especially, preparation of grant proposals.
  2. Other research support (e.g., photocopy work associated with preparation of manuscripts for submission to publishers).
  3. Work related to faculty professional travel (e.g., preparation of professional meeting forms, travel-fund request forms, processing travel expense reports).
  4. Other secretarial assistance to support professional research or course development—word-processing for individual faculty may be supported, but only if other higher priority work has been completed. In general, it is unreasonable for faculty to expect departmental secretaries to type professional papers, etc.

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