Members Keep Wheels of Academia Running

Local 3801’s Geraldine Hughes: “We basically have to go through and budget for every line item: pencils, office supplies, paper …”

Job titles don’t always tell you much. But at the University of Minnesota, it’s hard to find a department that doesn’t have an “office and administrative specialist.” What that tells you is: Departments can’t function without support staff.

“You just kind of know what’s going on,” says Local 3800’s Amy Selvius. She works at the Institute for Global Studies on the Twin Cities campus. “You know where to point people to find things. You know contact information. We know how to get things done. We know how things work. If something’s wrong, we know who to call.

“I’m kind of the face of the department,” Selvius points out. “I’m the main contact person people see when they come in. It’s my voice that’s on the voice mail, and those kinds of things.”

Local 3801’s Geraldine Hughes fills a similar role in Political Science in Duluth. “I’m a one-person show,” she says. Hughes’ duties include answering phones; answering questions from students, faculty, and visitors; tracking budgets; reimbursing expenses; ordering books; and even keeping tabs of office keys. During the summer, Hughes handles those duties for five other departments, too, while their support workers are laid off for two months.

Making the schedule work

Besides having a wealth of institutional knowledge, academic support staff also have one of the most complex tasks on campus: scheduling classes.

“It can be really tricky,” Selvius says. “Figuring out what courses are going to be offered, who’s teaching what, working with the faculty and figuring out what times work for them. We have to make sure courses are meeting in the right spots, that they have the right number of students, and the right students in their courses.”

“We have to make sure the whole schedule doesn’t collide with each other,” Hughes says. “For one class that didn’t have a room, I had to change five other classes to make that work. Otherwise, the entire schedule would be messed up.”