Chancellor George Blumenthal updated staff on a number of ongoing campus issues and answered questions about salaries and benefits, parking costs, and child care in his first staff brown bag forum as permanent chancellor October 17.

Blumenthal opened his remarks by encouraging UC Santa Cruz staff to apply for the position of staff advisor to the Regents, saying it was time UCSC had a larger voice with the board.

The Staff Advisor program is meant to improve direct communication between UC employees and the Board of Regents and to help staff make input into the board's deliberations and decisions.

On the university's environmental study of its long-range growth plan, Blumenthal said he hopes the university, the City of Santa Cruz, and others can solve their differences through resolution and discussion rather than continuing legal action.

The university is in talks with the city and the other involved parties, said Blumenthal.

"Our responsibility as public servants is to find a way to solve these disputes," he said.

Blumenthal spoke for about 15 minutes and answered questions for an hour. The majority of questions centered on salaries and benefits, with several members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the public employee and health care workers union, inquiring about parity issues and a timetable for step raises.

"It's important we try to raise the salary of all workers to appropriate levels," said Blumenthal in response. "Everyone at UC is underpaid. It's an endemic problem for UC."

But, he said, custodial employees got raises retroactively from money set aside last year.

"I argue I've already made a commitment to you with real money," Blumenthal said.

That said, Blumenthal repeatedly stated that all pay levels at the university require review.

"I'm a strong supporter of moving all salaries to the market rate," he said.

Parking costs, however, will remain the same for the time being. One questioner asked about the potential for tiered parking costs dependent on salary level.

"Right now, the policy is everyone pays the same," said Blumenthal. As for future increases in parking fees, he said, "I don't want to see parking fees go up, but I also feel an obligation to act responsibly."

Another query, asked anonymously via e-mail, questioned Blumenthal about the state of UCSC's child care, saying the system is "broken" and asking how the chancellor would address the problems.

"There are real problems now," he admitted, referring to the Granary Child Development Center. "We need to make sure we can operate that facility safely."

UCSC has taken action with personnel changes, a new coordinator, staff training and plans to increase the number of staff members.

About 300 staff members attended the brown bag forum, organized by the Staff Advisory Board and held at the Stevenson Event Center. The forum was available as a live audio webcast for campus staff unable to attend. It has been archived and is also available for listening or downloading on the Staff Advisory Board Web site.

Blumenthal invited staff to communicate with him via e-mail, saying he reads everything sent to chancellor@ucsc.edu, though he may not answer every email. Also, he conducts office hours people can sign up for.

Or, he said, just find him on campus. It's not a hard task, he joked: "I'm the only person wearing a tie."

The next brown bag is scheduled for noon to 1:15 p.m. February 20, 2008. The location is to be determined.