For over 100 years, students at University of South Carolina have been represented by the Student Government. Now, the staff at USC have a similar voice through the newly founded staff senate.
“Of our major populations [represented] on campus, the one that was missing was the staff senate,” staff senate President Shelley Dempsey said. “We weren’t being represented as a staff.”
Founded this spring, the organization represents university staff as a whole and serves as an advisory board to university President Bob Caslen.
Planning for the staff senate’s foundation started in 2020, and on June 1, 2020, the staff senate bylaws were drafted, deciding processes such as voting, meetings and nominations. Then, the officer review committee, an organization including staff senate co-chairs Angela Wright and Leena Holt, selected appointees to the executive board.
“Leena and Angela were really the masterminds behind building it,” Mark Bieger, Caslen's chief of staff, said. “They did such an amazing job of including people, of building this thing very quickly, looking at other universities, looking hard at our faculty senate, and they just really did a nice job.”
Both Dempsey and staff senate Vice President Janie Kerzan were encouraged by peers to take on their roles.
“I’m always looking for an opportunity to be of service and add value. This is not necessarily something that, at first blush, I was eager to throw my name in the hat for,” Kerzan said. “However, I had some encouragement and was ready to take on the opportunity and the challenge, if my skills and gifts and my experiences would be of service and help the staff senate achieve the objective, and, really, the university achieve its objective of setting a strong foundation.”
In order to streamline the creation of the staff senate, the founders recruited the help of the faculty senate, a separate organization that acts legislatively for USC's academic faculty, to write bylaws, organize committees and other “logistical pieces,” according to Dempsey.
The staff senate is already involved on campus. On Jan. 28 and 29, Dempsey and Kerzan were invited to a leadership retreat hosted by Caslen with university leaders at the dean-level and higher.
Caslen has also requested that a staff senate member be present on each Strategic Planning Group of the university. Members are also involved in the Future Planning Groups, where policies involving COVID-19 are addressed.
So far, the board has accomplished all of its work entirely through virtual meetings, Kerzan said. It plans to be fully functional by the end of the semester, according to its website.
Dempsey and Kerzan both acknowledged the impact of having a team that works well together, even while working virtually.
“This is the — I want to say — first group project, which is really what this is, that I’ve been on where we’re all that person pulling our weight, so it excites me to see what the future holds,” Dempsey said. “When we’re all pulling and dividing [the work] and getting it all done ... It’s pretty impressive already what we’ve managed to accomplish.”
Although the staff senate has been developing, it must still elect senators this spring.
In order to be eligible to run for senate, employees must be full-time, part-time or full-time equivalent and research grant position employees who have been employed at USC for at least one consecutive year before their election date and are in good standing with the school.
While time-limited and temporary employees cannot run for Senate, they are still represented through the staff senate and can take part in voting for senators.
Those eligible to run are encouraged to review the staff senate bylaws.
As the final touches are added to the staff senate’s foundations this spring, the organization’s careful-planning and foresight is credited for the senate’s future success.
“Because of that deliberateness [in planning] and because they were very purposeful, they created something that’s going to be with us, be with the university, for many many years to come,” Bieger said. "Maybe forever."