Schueller puts priority on representing staff voices

Photo by Tom Jorgensen.

Michael Schueller originally got involved with Staff Council to learn more about the University. As a limnologist at the State Hygienic Laboratory for 17 years at the time, he was curious about how things worked on the “Big Campus,” as he says.

That original curiosity turned into two years as a general councilor and another two years as an Executive Committee member. On April 1, he began his fifth year on Staff Council and took over as president.

Recently, Schueller spoke with fyi about Staff Council, his new role, and some of the issues he is going to tackle during the next year.

What prompted you to get involved with Staff Council?
I have worked at the Hygienic Laboratory for as long as I have worked at the University, which is going on 22 years. I just reached a point in my University career that, after having been at Oakdale for so long, I wanted to learn more about the University and how things worked downtown on the “Big Campus.” I also wanted to meet new people. But, as time passed, my greater concern was more for representation, which is what Staff Council is all about.

I wanted to make sure that at least my constituents—the P&S staff that I came in contact with everyday—had adequate representation from me. That’s really become my focal point as a member of Staff Council and the Executive Committee.

How do you think being on Staff Council has impacted the work that you do?
It’s had an extremely positive influence on my outlook on work and how I approach my work. It has taught me that there are many different ways of seeing an issue. Every person looking at an issue brings a different perspective. It broadened my listening skills and my ability to see and understand and accept other people’s perspectives and then, as a representative of that constituency, try to advance and represent the best interests of staff. There are stakeholders for every situation—to be successful you need to listen to your stakeholders, hear their thoughts and ideas so everyone feels as though they’ve been heard.

One of the bigger issues lately has been the compensation and classification restructuring. Could you tell me a little bit about that?
The University-wide hope is that the Compensation and Classification Redesign is going to provide a much better system than the one that we operated under for many, many years. From a classification standpoint, the hope is that people who are in large, generic classifications—like Program Associate or Project Assistant, for example—will have job classifications that more appropriately define their jobs.

As for compensation, a market-based system is going to be developed. Compensation should be based on performance so we hope that staff are classified correctly and their compensation is related to the market with which they are in. Annual salary will be based on performance, as it should be. If everything works the way it’s supposed to everyone will be much happier with the whole system.

What are some of the big issues you will work on during your tenure as Staff Council president?
I don’t think there is any question that our budget situation will probably be an issue. I think it already is an issue. There are obviously many factors that are impressing upon the University budget, but it’s always going to be an issue when the budget deals with the ability to educate students and how it relates to tuition increases and how it relates to salary increases and retention and recruitment of good faculty and staff. The Compensation and Classification Redesign is also going to have a major impact on our University over the next year.

Something I want to have a positive effect on are sustainability issues. Amber Seaton, the past president, has already engaged Liz Christiansen, UI director of sustainability, and I hope to carry that engagement forward. I’d like to really get Staff Council out in front to assist Liz and her efforts, especially with reducing and recycling waste on campus. Our goal is for people to more effectively use the recycling facilities that we have, and to expand them, if possible. That’s the one big issue that I see, going forward, as a positive thing that I would like the council to focus on to promote and assist Liz with. Mobilize and motivate staff to really be aware of the positive aspects of recycling and engage as much of the campus as possible.

How can staff become involved with or stay informed of what Staff Council does?
A great place to go is our web site ( It has been completely redesigned. It has everything from A to Z about Staff Council. It’s somewhat interactive and there is all kinds of information on there for staff and others in the University community. Also, take the time to attend a Staff Council meeting. They are open meetings and all staff are welcome.

Another way we hope people will become more aware of Staff Council is going to come as a result of the Compensation and Classification Redesign. Because of the redesign, the method by which we hold Staff Council elections is probably going to change a little bit. We’re striving for greater representation, or more accurate representation and greater communication with our constituents. Because we have all these new job functions we’re looking at possibly changing to representation by function. Hopefully it will increase the awareness of people that are on Staff Council within your function.

OK, what does a limnologist do?
Limnology is the biological, chemical, and physical study of surface water. When I started my job 22 years ago, I went out in the field and collected surface water samples from all over the state. Now I have greater supervisory responsibility for all of the limnologists in our Iowa City laboratory and manage projects for clients. Sometimes I get to speak to students. It’s a great job. I basically get to do everything my mother told me not to do when I was a kid at a picnic near a stream; I get wet, get muddy, go in the water, throw rocks—it’s a lot of fun.

What do you like to do outside of work?
I like to run. My whole family runs. My two oldest ran cross-country in high school and my oldest just completed his first Boston Marathon. My youngest plays baseball, so that takes up a lot of my free time. I am a diehard Packers fan, so I try to make it to a game at Lambeau Field once a year. I’m originally from Dubuque and we have a property there that I enjoy working on. There are a couple of ponds out there that I like to fish on. My family has been vacationing at the same resort in Minnesota since I was 12. We go there every summer and water ski, fish, and just enjoy the time off.