# The Staff Handbook

The other day, I was on the GrinCo home page [1,2]. One of the first thing I noticed was an announcement that said

Offer your suggestions for review by the Staff Handbook Review Committee.

No, really. They asked for suggestions! Now, one might assume that they expected that everyone would would just ignore that notice, but I’m hoping that they are serious that they want suggestions and that it’s a sign that HR values staff and faculty input [3]. I’m not one to neglect an opportunity like that, so I downloaded a copy of the Staff Handbook [4] and started reading. Soon thereafter, I started sending recommended changes. But you wouldn’t expect anything less from me, would you.

The first thing I noticed, other than some of my own confusion about the relationship between Revision Date and Effective Date and the really mediocre typography, was that the Mission Statement was incorrect. Let’s play Spot the Difference. Here’s the text that appeared in the Staff handbook.

When Grinnell College framed its charter in the Iowa Territory of the United States in 1846, it set forth a mission to educate its students for the different professions and for the honorable discharge of the duties of life. The College pursues that mission by educating young men and women in the liberal arts through free inquiry and the open exchange of ideas. As a teaching and learning community, the College holds that knowledge is a good to be pursued both for its own sake and for the intellectual, moral, and physical well-being of individuals and of society at large. The College exists to provide a lively academic community of students and teachers of high scholarly qualifications from diverse social and cultural circumstances. The College aims to graduate women and men who can think clearly, who can speak and write persuasively and even eloquently, who can evaluate critically both their own and others’ ideas, who can acquire new knowledge, and who are prepared in life and work to use their knowledge and their abilities to serve the common good. [https://grinco.sharepoint.com/offices/hr/HRToolsandResources/Staff%20Handbook.pdf]

Here’s the real Mission Statement, as approved by the Faculty and the Trustees [6].

When Grinnell College framed its charter in the Iowa Territory of the United States in 1846, it set forth a mission to educate its students for the different professions and for the honorable discharge of the duties of life. The College pursues that mission by providing an education in the liberal arts through free inquiry and the open exchange of ideas. As a teaching and learning community, the College holds that knowledge is a good to be pursued both for its own sake and for the intellectual, moral, and physical well-being of individuals and of society at large. The College exists to provide a lively academic community of students and teachers of high scholarly qualifications from diverse social and cultural circumstances. The College aims to graduate individuals who can think clearly, who can speak and write persuasively and even eloquently, who can evaluate critically both their own and others’ ideas, who can acquire new knowledge, and who are prepared in life and work to use their knowledge and their abilities to serve the common good. [https://www.grinnell.edu/about/mission]

My email about this difference prompted the second suggested change. I wanted to carefully point the recipients to the error. That normally involves including page numbers. But there are no page numbers, which makes it hard to provide useful references. Adding page numbers was my second suggestion [7].

Continuing in my path of perhaps minor to some people, but clearly important issues, I noted that in many portions of the handbook assume a gender binary. For example, Section B.3, Guarding Against Personal Bias, includes language like he or she should consult with his or her supervisor [8]. I dashed off a request that the handbook be updated to follow the model set out in the Student Handbook, and elsewhere, to use more gender-inclusive language [9,10].

I’m not sure that I’m allowed to say much about the policies themselves. I wish we had better support for children of staff and faculty who do not choose to attend an ACM or GLCA school, but I don’t think that policy will change any time soon; I know that when I’ve asked in the past, I was told that our current policy is quite generous. I’m glad to see that we’ve extended our parental leave policy for staff from six weeks to twelve weeks, putting it nearly on par with our parental leave for faculty (two courses, which should be one semester).

I would like to think more carefully about our Educational Assistance Program for Employees (section C.6). We cover the cost of tuition and fees up to a maximum of $4,000 per fiscal year. But we don’t guarantee it, since [t]here are finite funds for this program. If you are enrolling in a multi-year program, I think you’d want to know when you enroll that you’d get the$4,000 per year. I think we should also consider the amount, at least for staff pursuing graduate degrees, since $4,000 per year is not likely enough to make a significant dent in some programs. Let’s see … UIowa charges about$2400 per semester for a student taking six credit hours. A Master’s degree is about thirty-two credit hours. So someone working part-time on the degree would take three years, and Grinnell would cover $4000 of the$4800. That sounds reasonable. But I know that I’ve talked to staff members who are interested in programs that cost \$14,000 per year or more. That’s probably an issue for another musing.

Perhaps I should consider other policies I’d like to see in the Staff Handbook. I’d certainly like us to follow the lead of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and stop asking for prior salaries on job applications. That practice has been shown to lead to bias in salaries. However, when I’ve mentioned this issue to other people, they haven’t seemed all that concerned. I’m not even sure that it belongs in the Staff Handbook Maybe I’ll ask Kate Walker before she retires. In any case, it seems like a subject for another musing.

That’s about it for now. It’s not like I have unlimited time right now to read and critique the Staff Handbook, even though much of it does apply to me. I do have one more minor critique, which I’m not sure whether or not it’s worth sending along [10]. The Staff Handbook ends with a list of definitions and then with a glossary. I’m not sure what the difference is. I’m also not sure why neither appears in the table of contents. Is that worth mentioning? I think I’ll leave it alone for now, while they deal with my three more important suggestions.

In any case, I’m glad that the College is asking for recommendations for the Staff Handbook. I hope that the Staff and Faculty of the College provide good recommendations and that the Staff Handbook Committee takes those recommendations seriously.

[1] GrinCo is what I call Grinnell’s SharePoint site, since it’s at http://grinco.share.point.com.

[2] I’m sorry, but since it’s behind a password wall, some of my readers cannot see it. I’m not sure why the front page, which provides really useful information, is behind a password wall, but that’s the decision of our Communication and ITS departments. Neither has provided a real rationale.

[3] Staff members can stop laughing now.

[4] The current version of the Staff Handbook (Effective Date: January 3, 2011; Revision Date: March 28, 2017 [5]) is also behind a password wall. But it looks like an older version is still public.

[5] How can policies be effective before they existed? I’m so confused.

[6] I suppose that since the Staff did not play a direct role in approving the Mission Statement, one could argue that the correct Mission Statement does not have to be in the Staff Handbook. But I’d rather we involved Staff. And it really is supposed to represent the Mission of the College.

[7] Inserting the correct Mission Statement was the first.

[8] Italics mine.

[9] The Student Handbook uses she/he/zi and his/her/hir.

[10] I should see what the Faculty Handbook does. Damn. We also assume a gender binary. Time to dash off a note to FOC.

[11] The other suggestions speak to inclusivity and ability to reference to handbook clearly.

Version 1.0 of 2017-04-29.