Pestello, HR unveil Cura, for faculty-staff entente


On Monday, Feb. 8, an audience of more than 250 faculty and staff, in addition to 70 tuning in online, listened as President Fred Pestello, Vice President of Human Resources Mickey Luna, and Assistant to the President for Mission and Identity Fr. Christopher Collins, S.J., unveiled their plan to help everyone get along.

The program, named Cura after the Jesuit notion of cura personalis, or healing the whole person, has as its goal to “build and sustain a positive workplace culture that helps us to be the University our mission calls us to be,” according to its recently launched website. At the Feb. 8 presentation, Pestello addressed the need for the program, Luna explained its logistics, and Collins related it to SLU’s mission.

A video replete with images of campus sites and employees explains, “The standards of the Cura program are simple: Treat each other with dignity, compassion and respect; treat all colleagues equally as equally important team members, regardless of job, role or title; appreciate and understand the culture, humanity and differences of others; build trust through honest, open communication, reliability and integrity.” A Steering Committee will oversee progress made and “hold us accountable for improvements for the future.”

Cura proposes a solution to the inevitable tensions, frustrations and miscommunications that go with working in a large institution. It emerged from faculty and staff responses to a 2014 Climate Survey that identified three categories of issues: trust, respect and working relations.

“It was an awakening to executive staff and Dr. Pestello and his team to see that in our university,” said Patrick Maloney of Human Resources, who is working on Cura’s implementation. “We might expect to see that in other places, but especially because of our mission and our Jesuit heritage … that really needs to be a major component of how we’re deliberately shaping our culture…you see that in the Strategic Plan as well.”

Maloney, who holds a Ph.D. in organizational psychology, explained Cura’s purview: “Cura was designed to operate in the space between the stuff that happens on a daily basis and you can just forget about and it rolls off your back, and then the stuff that reaches illegal harassment. Cura isn’t things that reach that level.” He said that these problems aren’t unique to SLU, but rather exist in any organization.

“It’s a strange thing,” said Fr. Collins, “because on the one hand … the vast majority of people are so mission-driven, but then closer to home, sometimes we’re not as generous.” He continued, “There’s great dedication to mission, but there’s also instances of people kind of undermining it by their treatment of each other sometimes.”

“I think it’s more just personalities that are problematic sometimes, or sometimes people have a bad day and they take it out on somebody else,” he said. “It’s understandable, but it’s not acceptable either.”

Maloney outlined Cura’s five components: a set of standards “to touch on how we want really anyone on campus to treat one another”; recognition of those who live up to or exceed those standards; learning “to be more understanding of other people” by improving interpersonal skills; mechanisms for outreach in relational problems where there might be “a real or perceived power difference”; and a continued effort to collect feedback, culminating in another Climate Survey later this year.

Although one professor I spoke with dismissed such programs as “smoke” that they “deliberately avoid,” Maloney’s assessment of faculty and staff reactions suggested a generally positive outlook. “I have not personally heard any negative feedback,” Maloney said, “but I have spoken to a couple faculty that I knew through my time as a graduate student, and they seemed hopeful about the program, and they seemed impressed about the level of transparency, clarity and communication that’s going out in advance to let people know about the program presentations and what the program involves.”

He stressed the collaborative nature of the project. “As the program was being developed and a proposal was being created, we were continuously getting feedback from different people along the way,” he said. “Number one, we didn’t want it to be a surprise to anyone … but then, second, we wanted to make sure that it was in line with what they were expecting, what they needed from the program.”

“This program especially is trying to promote a more positive environment where you highlight people,” said Collins, citing SLU Sparks and SLU Stars, two peer-to-peer recognition award formats.

“I think that’s only going to help advance the university,” said Maloney. “It’s going to help people bridge across different functional areas, it’s going to help people who bring different experiences, life backgrounds together in order to have conversations that I think will be productive for the university.”

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