Professional News

Staff Senate inspires change as voice of the staff

Arden Barnes | UK Photo

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 12, 2023)  Established two decades ago, the University of Kentucky Staff Senate was created to serve as the official representative body of university staff. UK Staff Senate is currently composed of over 130 UK staff members. Along with serving staff interests, UK Staff Senate aims to foster a climate that promotes shared governance — empowering employee and student participation in university decision-making.

The Staff Senate values integrity, the principles of shared governance, democratically elected representation, partnerships with all aspects of the university community, and inclusive decision-making. Leading the charge on these values is the Staff Senate Chair Olivia Ellis.

Ellis splits her work at UK between the International Center and Staff Senate, serving as an education abroad advisor and Staff Senate chair — the latter being an elected position within Staff Senate. Raised in Eastern Kentucky, Ellis came to Lexington for undergraduate and graduate studies. She now works to involve staff in inclusive decision-making in university operations, while empowering students to expand their horizons beyond the Bluegrass State.

“Staff Senate is where change happens,” Ellis said. “We have regular conversations with university administration and leadership, and we consistently work to meet with staff across UK, both on and off the Lexington campus and including our UK HealthCare employees. With over 15,000 staff at the university, representing all our interests is no small task, and we recognize that there are many areas for improvement. We do the best we can to ensure that UK administrators are aware of the changing needs and priorities of staff members, and we work collaboratively with them to improve the staff experience at the university.”

In their role, UK Staff Senators influence policies and program enhancements for the university, work diligently with UK leadership and community members and create professional development opportunities for employees. Staff Senate hosts monthly Conversations with the President, the annual UK Appreciation Day, the Outstanding Staff Awards event, and other ongoing programming such as the university-wide Staff Senate Mentorship Program, the monthly Lunch and Learn series, the Kentucky WildCast Podcast, Staff Listening Sessions, community service events and more.

Along with engaging staff and our campus, the Staff Senate works intentionally to help the university meet staff needs. Through conversations and work with university leadership, Staff Senate's accomplishments are many. The Staff Shared Leave Pool, CRISIS Program, increase in minimum pay rates, well-being leave, parental leave, elder care leave and more have resulted from Staff Senate’s continued presence in leadership at UK.

“We have a lot of work to do, but it is our goal to continuously mold our membership, our leadership, and our direction to the needs and realities of staff,” Ellis said. “We are addressing needs today and still looking ahead. What does the future of the university look like when considering the workplace? How do we weave hybrid and remote work into our roles to make the university more competitive and compassionate for the needs of individuals and their jobs? How do we make sure the people we work with are paid appropriately and taken care of as people and not just employees? How do we ensure all our employees — health care, campus, extension, remote and beyond — feel valued as part of this community? Solutions take a while, but Staff Senate is committed to continuing the conversations and advocating for action.”

The UK Staff Senate meets every month on the second Thursday at 1 p.m. The meeting is open to the public and information on the location is available on the Staff Senate website.

To learn more about Staff Senate, members, programming and contact information, please visit

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.