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A peer in high places

A longtime campus employee, Juliann Martinez, has an important new role: staff advisor to the UC Regents

| 10 September 2009

Juliann MartinezUniversity Relations' Juliann Martinez attended her first regents meeting in July (Wendy Edelstein photo)

In July, Juliann Martinez, University Relations' director of gift management, became a staff advisor to the UC Board of Regents —the first person to serve in that role from the Berkeley campus.

As staff advisor, Martinez's charge is to bring staff perspectives to the university's 18-member governing board as well as to the UC Office of the President. "Many times staff feel like things are happening to us," says Martinez. "I wanted to get involved in this capacity in order to advocate for staff interests." Martinez says it's important to communicate the rationale behind the regents' decisions to staff — whether or not she agrees with their choices — so that they can come to their own conclusions.

Martinez endured a lengthy application process to secure the volunteer position. Partnering with her on those responsibilities is staff advisor Ed Abeyta from UC San Diego Extension. The pair are only the fifth and sixth staff advisors in the relatively new position. UC Office of the President introduced it as a pilot program in 2005, and the regents made it permanent in 2007. Two staff advisors, selected from all staff and non-Senate academic employees, serve two-year staggered terms, with each year's new appointee — Martinez, in this instance — called "staff advisor designate."

Martinez' connection to UC runs deep: She's a Cal alum ('87) and has worked in the campus's University Relations unit for 20 years. In the course of her work she interacts with staff from many corners of the university — from athletics to academic and administrative units — giving her a broad perspective on how staff are feeling about their jobs and the university.

Berkeley, she says. "is going through some major changes due to the current fiscal crisis. I see the need for better communication between regents, senior leadership, and staff now, more than ever, as we start imagining the university's future."

Crises and challenges

Martinez' initiation to the regents came at the board's July meeting, where the agenda was far from business as usual. The topics on the table were staff furloughs and UC's budget crisis.

The discussion about budget cuts touched on increasing student diversity at UC, which elicited questions from the regents about to how to establish benchmarks and calculate statistics related to meeting that goal. Martinez' thoughts turned to the effect that layoffs from one specific employee category might have on these efforts.

"Having fewer student-affairs officers would diminish our ability to recruit underrepresented students as well as our ability to support them while they're at UC," she asserts. "If those students come from disadvantaged backgrounds, they need that kind of support."

At the meeting, Martinez was encouraged that several regents expressed an interest in learning more about staff, who, she says, are "not just a monolith to them. The regents want to hear our different stories and understand what we do in a more nuanced way," she reports.

In these lean budgetary times, Martinez is especially concerned about staff training: "How do you make sure there's continued development for staff, so they can take on leadership roles? How do you continue to help staff be innovative and creative in an environment where there are fewer resources?" she asks.

She and Abeyta put a premium on communicating with UC staff, which they undertake through campus visits and a newsletter on the staff advisor website. Martinez says they will work closely with each campus's staff assembly — like this campus's Berkeley Staff Assembly. They also collaborate with the delegates that each campus's staff assembly sends to the systemwide Council of University of California Staff Assemblies (CUCSA).

After all, she says, "There are only two of us for the entire system. We can't solve everything. but at least we can have an ear to the ground to listen for commonalities around problems, and raise those issues as we hear about them."