Staff regent candidates prepare for Thursday’s election

Tamela Smith, current staff regent, asks the three staff regent candidates, director of enterprise systems Greg Hackbarth, director of educational telecommunications David Brinkley and director of the Student Accessibility Resource Center Robert Unseld, how they will promote the staff’s best interest and voice their opinions while sitting across from their staff superiors during Board of Regents meetings. The candidates answered staff-related questions during an open forum on Wednesday, June 13.

Nicole Ziege

Candidates running for staff regent appealed to their fellow staff members at an open forum before the upcoming election, which will take place on TopNet for all official staff employees on Thursday.

Greg Hackbarth, David Brinkley and Robert Unseld presented their different platforms on staff-related issues during an open forum on Wednesday, appealing to those in attendance and to those in the WKU community who watched the forum online. All three candidates were nominated for the position.

“The WKU staff regent represents staff interests on the Board [of Regents],” Mike Loftis, vice chair of the WKU Staff Council and event moderator, said. “The staff regent and faculty regent, who represents faculty members, are parallel to one another. Together, they represent the interests of all WKU employees.”

During his opening statement, Unseld, director of the Student Accessibility Resource Center, said he is a two-time WKU graduate, and he has been at WKU for 16 years. He said he believes the staff regent must play a part in advocating for the staff.

“What we see, how we’re treated, how we interact based on our respective duties create a lens in which we view WKU, and I believe that as staff regent, we should be open and available to hearing all those voices and seeing through all those lenses,” Unseld said.

David Brinkley, director of educational telecommunications, said he came to WKU 23 years ago, and it was not a “light decision” for him to run as staff regent. During his opening statement, Brinkley talked about the staff moving forward after the 2017-2018 year, which he said placed “enormous pressure” on them.

“We have to support the student experience and understand that that’s at the foundation of what we do,” Brinkley said. “We need to break down any existing silos. The answer should never be, ‘That’s not my job.’ The answer should be, ‘How can we help?’”

Greg Hackbarth, WKU Staff Council member and director of the enterprise systems department, said he worked in the Information Technology department at WKU as a student employee before becoming a staff member. He said he joined staff council in order to promote and preserve the “Western spirit” he has seen at WKU.

“I’ve been trying to protect that Western spirit the whole time,” Hackbarth said, referring to his time on staff council. “I want to continue doing that work. I want to make a contribution.”

The candidates answered questions from those in attendance in the auditorium and online, which related to their perspectives and platforms involving staff-related issues, including promoting the staff’s interests during Board of Regents meetings and how they view the RAMP budget model as a possible asset to the staff.

The first question from the online forum chat, though, asked the candidates what they believed to be the most important issues facing the staff at WKU.

Brinkley said he believed the most important issue was retirement and how to “make a pathway for new hires.” He said he does not think there is a simple solution to the issue.

“I also think that we’re in a place where we have to be able to recruit people as people leave, and I don’t know if the university can effectively recruit replacements when staff or faculty leave because of the position that we’re in financially,” Brinkley said. “That’s a concern to me.”

Hackbarth agreed with Brinkley on that issue as being important to the staff currently, and he also included strengthening leave policies as faculty and staff as important, among others.

“We’ve been working extensively with the department of human resources in discussing the idea of family leave and issues around parental leave and things like that,” Hackbarth said, referring to his work with the staff council.

Unseld said he felt like maintaining job security was an important issue facing the staff, among others.

“I do think it’s important that as a staff member, we can envision ourselves here, not just here in the position we’re in, but here, better off than we were when we first started,” Unseld said.

Tamela Smith, current staff regent, asked the candidates how they would be able to speak out in Board of Regents meetings, despite their staff superiors sitting across from them.

Unseld said he would be able to voice his opinion in the most passionate way possible.

“Truth to power is something we should not take lightly, and there is personal risk, but the folks that depend on you depend on you to do it,” Unseld said.

Hackbarth said he has experience with speaking up to his superiors while serving on the staff council.

“It’s put me at odds with people who are in power,” Hackbarth said. “I feel that everybody would be in that position, and everybody would be speaking up to a superior in some way. We would all feel a little bit vulnerable, as staff members always do, because we don’t have the protections that the faculty and the students do.”

Brinkley also said he would fight for the staff members, like how he was going to fight the terminal cancer diagnosis that he received in March this year. He said he was given 18 months to live.

“I think I would be a great advocate because no one up here is going to tell me how to act other than in the staff’s best interest,” Brinkley said. “I’ve dedicated my absolute life to this university.”

After the forum, Tamela Smith, who served as staff regent for three years, said she felt good about the candidates who were up for her position. Smith will step down as regent, effective June 30, and the next staff regent will start on July 1.

“I’m confident that they will do a great job at the position,” Smith said.

Nicole Ziege can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected]. Follow Nicole Ziege on Twitter at @NicoleZiege.