Category Archives: Human Resources

Reflecting on CUPA-HR

As I described in my previous post, presenting three talks at two very different conferences in a span of six days is a lot of input, particularly when the audiences have such different lenses on our common cause: improving our higher education institutions. My previous post was about the first conference (AASHE); in this post I’m writing about my presentation and experience at my first CUPA-HR Annual Conference in Indianapolis earlier this month.

At the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR, cupahr.org), I presented some of the preliminary findings from the Living Wage Policy Study. A number of CUPA-HR conference attendees were Chief Human Resource Officers (CHROs) – the very people who I am inviting to participate in the study on behalf of their institutions. During my presentation and throughout the conference, I was able to meet a number of people working in HR professionals at all levels, hailing from from small (one person) HR departments to state-wide systems, and every type of public and private institution in between. Similarly, early interviews with participants in the Living Wage Policy Study have reflected a diversity of processes used by institutions exploring or considering just employment policies and practices.

While the sustainability-focused community at AASHE (described in my previous post) is very broad, the CUPA-HR community is very deeply focused on the existing, emerging, and sometimes as-yet-unseen issues that are central to running HR functions effectively and supporting the work of our institutions. Higher education HR leaders have to be technical experts, systems administrators, people and due-process advocates, risk managers, and change agents, and those varied hats are often stacked one on top of each other. In other words, in higher education, HR deals with concerns both that run both broad and deep. One could sense that from listening to attendees – and by perusing the wide array of exhibitors at the vibrant CUPA-HR expo.

And quite an Expo it was. The CUPA-HR Expo included providers of consulting (for everything from diversity to compensation), recruitment systems, background checks, retirement planning, payroll, HRIS, third party benefits administration, and healthcare for employees and retirees – to name a few. Also present were at least two different providers of health insurance for pets (did you know that around 60% of American households own pets? I didn’t!).

One other observation about the CUPA-HR expo – and an open suggestion to organizers of others conferences: arrange plenty of seating for participants to sit down and chat, right through the middle of the expo hall – if that means getting a bigger expo hall, I recommend it. This was one of the most helpful features of the conference in terms of learning from each other and getting to know some fellow conference participants instead of simply going to the same events as other conference attendees. Combined with 30 minute breaks – which are not only more humane than but also facilitate those most-important conversations between sessions – CUPA-HR 2018 was a very well-designed conference schedule.

One of the recurring themes I heard about from conference participants was the central role they play in crafting institutional responses to events both external and internal to their institutions. Among most challenging issues that any institution faces occur when external events become internal issues, and when internal issues become external news. Whichever way those often intense cross-boundary currents are flowing, HR finds itself at the center of the institution’s response, in close collaboration with the president and other functional areas (e.g., marketing/communication, community/public relations, advancement, alumni relations, student life, to name a few).

This was my first presentation at CUPA-HR, and from a speaker’s perspective it was a very smooth process both logistically and technically. The conference app was terrific, and I am compelled to point out that the printed program was probably the best designed conference material I have seen in some time – one worth retaining. Nicely done!

I hope I am given the opportunity to present at a CUPA-HR event again, including regional and/or seasonal conferences. I’ll keep you posted here whenever I have significant news. Next year’s CUPA-HR Annual Conference and Expo is in Aurora CO, October 20-22, 2019. I hope to see you there!