Boris Tsang

April 18, 2019

Housing, Well-Being Are Most Important Issues Facing Cornell Staff, Leadership Program Says

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Housing, community and well-being were among the key areas that Leading Cornell, a leadership program for Cornell employees, identified as the most pressing areas of concern for those employed by the University at Wednesday’s Employee Assembly.

Leading Cornell is a “multi-day program designed to engage and develop staff” with an aim towards “the application of leadership concepts to a real project,” according to the program’s website. The group, which consists of 25 members, has repeatedly met to discuss potential ideas for improving the experience of Cornell workers.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Craig Wiggers, chair and veterans’ representative at-large as well as a participant in Leading Cornell, presented an overview of the program’s key recommendations.

“We were tasked with brainstorming ideas to bring to senior administration that we could move forward on behalf of Cornell,” Wiggers said.

To address housing issues, the group recommended launching the “Cornell Housing Incentive Program,” a program that, according to Wiggers, “would provide employees the opportunity to live closer to campus, if they chose to.”

The plan calls for a four-year pilot program that would offer employees an array of housing assistance, including third-party mortgage lenders and pre-negotiated mortgage rates with no down payments.

“If you’re having to commute an hour each day, that’s very challenging,” Wiggers said, highlighting the impact of Ithaca’s increasingly expensive housing market on the ability of employees to live close to their place of work.

“Financially, it is very difficult to live in Ithaca. Ithaca is in the top ten most expensive places to raise a family,” Wiggers continued. “Eighty-three percent of our faculty live in Ithaca; 41 percent of staff live in Ithaca.”

Several peer institutions have implemented this type of program. Notably, Harvard University has provided a similar version of it since 1965 with no defaults, providing on average 50 loans per year, according to Leading Cornell’s report published online. Syracuse University has had this program since 1994 with only one default.

Wiggers also underscored the difficulty of finding a community when new staff arrive at Cornell, relaying anecdotes from employees who have struggled to connect with others while in Ithaca.

“On Saturday morning at 10 o’clock, I am the loneliest that you can imagine, and it’s not until Monday that anybody would even know if anything had happened,” one employee said.

To help resolve this issue, the group proposed an Office of Employee Engagement as an engagement resource for new staff in order to improve campus-wide events and encourage staff to create their own community.

Finally, Wiggers emphasized the need for the University to continue to bolster the 90 well-being programs — which currently include a range of fitness classes, nutrition and life coaching — that target employees at Cornell, saying that there is an imperative for “ensuring that staff are able to engage and take the opportunity to get into these well-being programs.”

Leading Cornell’s report argued that improving the quantity and quality of well-being programs could present significant cost savings by “decreasing sick-leave absenteeism by 28 percent, health-related costs by 26 percent, and workers’ compensation and disability claims by 30 percent.”

“This is a cultural issue,” Wiggers said, stating that there is a need for leadership from the top, grassroots support from the managerial level and cross-communication across different colleges to maintain consistency for the programs.