Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Practical Matters: How to Stay Current in Your Field Without Breaking the Bank, Part I: Conference Attendance & Reimbursement

by Sarah Kain Gutowski, Chair, New Member Mentoring Program

By now, hopefully you've settled into your second semester as a full-time faculty member quite nicely. You're fully prepped for classes or you resumed your duties shortly after the holiday -- and now you feel comfortable enough with your regular job duties to venture out to some conferences or seminars for a little professional development.

Maybe you feel like engaging in some pretty major professional development. In fact, maybe the  professional development opportunity takes place in another state. Maybe that state is far away, like, say, California. Maybe the city in California is a fairly expensive city, like, oh, Los Angeles. Maybe you need to stay for three or four days just to attend all of the panel discussions and workshops and poster sessions that would make a trip like that worth the trouble and expense. 

And maybe your bank account will be flat-out busted by the time you're done paying for expenses like registration fees, air fare, lodging, and meals.
Who's going to Los Angeles in March? This girl!

Or wait -- maybe it won't be! 

One of the most beneficial parts of the contract negotiated by our Faculty Association is the part that provides for 1) "T" days that you make take (instead of sick days or personal leave days) for conference attendance and 2) reimbursement for expenses such as the ones listed above. According to our most recent Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), each faculty member is allotted a total of $1700 to attend conferences over the next two years -- from September 2015 to September 2017. In September 2017, the amount allotted increases to $1800. 

How do I access this money? you ask. Great question! The answer is, like at most institutions, slowly and sometimes painfully and through the careful application to the college's administration via forms -- a necessary evil, and one that shouldn't prove too cumbersome or unwieldy provided that you download the right forms and follow the proper steps. 

  1. First, you need to submit a request at least six weeks prior to the date of the conference or professional obligation. The request form requires you to estimate the cost of travel, hotel, registration, meals, etc. and support it with documents that prove your intention to attend the event (like a conference registration receipt, or the letter that confirms your participation as a reader or panelist). You can find this form here, as well as the Travel Expense Voucher (see below) on the front page of the college's governance web site. (Wait -- you didn't know we even had a college governance web site? This post is chock full of information, isn't it? More on college governance later -- that's a story for a later blog!)
  2. You'll need to have this form signed by your academic chair -- he or she must approve your attendance first -- and then you (or the chair) needs to give the form to your department's administrative assistant. He or she will forward this on to the Executive Dean's office for your campus. 
    • Note: Why can't you just forward it to the Executive Dean's office yourself? Well, the administrative assistant for your department needs to know about (i.e. actually see; become familiar with) the request because eventually, after the Executive Dean approves the request and forwards the appropriate material to the Business Office, he or she will need to enter a requisition into Banner for you, which will generate a Purchase Order Number, which will result in you being reimbursed the requested funds. If these steps aren't followed, you won't receive a payment. So long story short is: fill out the paperwork, have it signed, give it to the department administrative assistant.
  3. Once the Executive Dean's office and the Central Business Office have finished doing their thing, they'll send you a nice letter in the mail notifying you that your conference attendance has been approved. Also, they'll provide you with copies of the College Business/Contractual Travel Payment Request Form & Instructions, as well as the Travel Expense Voucher. Hold on to these items until you return from your conference.
  4. When you attend your conference, you have to note your absence from your campus in your faculty leave report. There's no option for "conference attendance" in that screen, so instead you should type a note to your supervisor (reminding him or her about the approved conference attendance) in the notes section of your monthly leave report.
  5. Once home from your conference, you need to fill out the Travel Expense Voucher as well as the Payment Request Form. Once again your academic chair will be asked for his or her signature the Travel Expense Voucher and the Payment Request Form, and then you'll forward those forms, as well as everything listed below to the Executive Dean's office:
    • The Payment Request Form
    • The Travel Expense Voucher
    • Your conference badge
    • Your conference brochure (hang on to all of the handouts, people)
    • The conference daily agenda or program
    • A conference report (an account and evaluation of the meetings you attended along with comments about its usefulness to you as a faculty member)
    • Relevant receipts, including those for payment of the conference fee, payment for hotel accommodations, payment for an auto rental, payment for tolls, payment for parking, payment for cab fare if a shuttle isn't available, and payment for airfare or train tickets, etc. If you drive to the conference, you can submit a mileage request form, also available on the college web site.
It's important to note two things: The first is that you should submit your travel vouchers and supporting documentation and mileage requests within two and a half months of attending the conference -- otherwise reimbursement may be denied. The second is that it generally takes a campus Executive Dean's office two weeks to process the paperwork, and sometimes longer. So while you shouldn't expect to be reimbursed instantly, if you follow the guidelines and fill out everything correctly, you'll receive a reimbursement check before too long.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Practical Matters: Making Plans In the Face of Inclement Weather

by Sarah Kain Gutowski, Chair, New Member Program

Welcome back, new members and mentors! I hope everyone had a peaceful and productive holiday season and/or break, depending on your job duties.

Snow and sand and pine needles: Winter on Long Island
Like me, you probably spent a good amount of your time off (whether a few days or a few weeks) preparing for the new semester and the particular set of responsibilities and requirements it brings. Many teaching faculty, for instance, align course material with the academic calendar and plan a schedule of lectures and assignments. Many non-classroom faculty, too, anticipate deadlines or "busy seasons" based on the academic calendar (especially if you work in a skills center or the library). And committee members begin scheduling their meeting times and dates with an eye toward completing any number of charges.

If there's one thing I've learned about preparing for a new spring semester, however, it's that quite often the best plans are upstaged by the worst weather.

We've just experienced (some might say finally) genuine winter weather on Long Island: low temperatures, a dusting of snow, patches of ice on the road and frost on our cars when we leave the house in the morning. And it looks as though this weekend, while it won't be as much as other parts of the country (HAHAINYOURFACEBALTIMOREANDWASHINGTONDC), we'll be getting more snow, and maybe even more than a dusting -- stuff you have to actually shovel.

If we get more than what's predicted, or if some of it melts and then refreezes and then creates ICEPOCALYPSE on the LIE, we may have our normal class schedule disrupted. The administration really dislikes cancelling classes, but sometimes inclement weather forces a late start or an early closing to the school day. If this happens, you'll be notified a couple of different ways:
  1. Facebook will erupt in a bunch of "no school today!" posts. Just kidding. (Well, kind of.) 
  2. The school will post news about the closing on the home page. 
  3. Also, inside the MYSCCC portal. 
  4. Also, also, in an email to your school account announcing the closing. 
  5. Also also also in a voicemail message (particularly if the closing occurs during the already-in-process school day).
  6. Additionally, on any number of local radio stations, including 97.5 FM or 1370 AM, 102.3 FM & East 95.3 FM, 106.1 FM, 92.1 FM 92.1 FM, 103.9 FM, 103.1 FM, 96.1 FM
  7. Aaaaaaannnnnddd: News Channel 12 (As Local As Local News Gets!) on TV
So my point is that it'll be really easy to tell whether or not you're expected, as a Faculty Association member, to report to your campus. If you have extenuating circumstances, though, brought about because of the weather -- such as childcare or transportation issues -- and you need to take a personal day and cancel classes, try not to stress too much about the cancellation. I would advise, however, accessing your Blackboard course space and posting an announcement -- easily emailed to students with the click of a button in the Announcement screen-- as soon as possible, so that your students can avoid driving all the way to campus only to find out you're not holding class.

(You can also access an email list on Banner (if, of course, you can actually access Banner  . . . *le sigh*) under the Faculty Services Menu: select "Class Roster" and then scroll to the bottom, where you'll find a button that reads "Display Email List." Select all of the revealed text, copy it, and paste it into an Outlook email -- and this way you can avoid using Blackboard if you really, really want to  . . . even though it's really, really easy (read: much easier) to use Blackboard.)

Additionally, it might help you to know that many of our students rely on public transportation and/or family and friends to get to campus, and their ability to travel may be hindered greatly. On days when there's really bad weather involved, it's best to be gracious and flexible regarding your attendance policies. And if you're forced to cancel class while the rest of Suffolk spins on, be gracious to yourself, too, and don't have a melt down because you can't cover all of the material you planned originally, pre-snow (like *cough* I did, just a few short semesters ago). Remember that if your students can meet all of the learning outcomes on the college's course syllabus by the end of the semester (you can find all of them posted here), you'll be doing your job -- even if this semester's covered material doesn't look exactly like that of previous semesters.

So, fingers crossed that we have just enough snow to play in over the weekend -- with the bulk of it disappearing by Monday! And best of luck with your first weeks of the spring semester -- even if it doesn't feel very spring-like at the moment.