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Here are some of the previous What's On Your Mind questions and responses:

What's on your Mind? 
The Northwestern University Staff Advisory Council helps you find the answer.

Do you have a University-related question that you'd like the answer to?

E-mail NUSAC at nusac@northwestern.edu; we'll try to find the answer for you and might even feature it in a future "NUSAC in Action."

Here are some recent questions and answers:

JT from the Evanston campus wrote, "I'm looking for an opportunity to take a class after work, just for fun – any ideas?"

Yes, the Norris Mini Courses would be perfect for you!  The courses are recreational, social, fun, and you'll learn something.  They're non-credit courses for adults and students, offered weeknights throughout the year, and taught by qualified instructors.   They offer everything from Tai Chi to Guitar to Ballroom Dance to Photography, plus much more!  The classes are held in Norris University Center on the Evanston Campus, and typically last about 2 hours per class.   Most courses are held once a week for 5 to 6 weeks.  Fees vary, and are reduced for NU faculty, staff and students compared to the general public.

Work on the Chicago campus?   You are also welcome to attend these courses.  The evening start times give you the opportunity to get to Evanston after work.  You can hop on the shuttle bus to Evanston or drive -- after 4 pm you do not need a sticker to park on campus.

For more information about Norris Mini Courses, please visit: www.minicourses.org

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V.M. from the Chicago Campus asked, "I take the train to work.  Is there any way the University can help me save on commuting costs?"

Yes.  To help lower the cost of public transit, (including train and bus fares, and parking), for those who commute to work at the University, Northwestern deducts University parking fees and transit expenses from benefits-eligible employees' gross pay before calculating taxes.

Paying transit expenses with pre-tax dollars lowers the cost of public transportation. How much lower depends on the individual's marginal federal income tax rate (the rate at which the last dollar of taxable income is taxed), which is affected by exemptions, filing status, family income, and possibly other items. The tax savings usually lower the cost by 25-36%.

For more information and to find out how to sign up for the program, please visit the transit benefit website at http://www.northwestern.edu/uservices/transportation/commuter/benefit/index.html.

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A.P. from the Evanston campus wrote, "I work with chemicals as part of my job; should I receive training on how to work with them safely?"

Yes!  Whether inside or outside of a laboratory, your supervisor must ensure you have the knowledge and training to safely handle, store, and dispose of chemicals in your workplace.  There are different types of training depending on where you work with chemicals.  The Office for Research Safety (ORS) provides the following training:

ORS provides training on the regulatory requirements and general safety practices to set groundwork for the worksite-specific training your principal investigator or supervisor must provide.  Worksite-specific training must cover chemical hazards, engineering controls, safe work practices, and personal protective equipment specific to your lab.

Links to the training and standard requirements are available on the ORS website: www.research.northwestern.edu/ors/

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SA from the Chicago campus wrote, "I'm really going through some difficult times right now and I need someone to talk with confidentially. Where can I turn for assistance?"

In times like these when anyone can suddenly be facing additional stress due to economic difficulties, health or emotional issues, it may be even more important to be aware that Northwestern University offers the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program provided by Perspectives, Ltd.  They offer confidential counseling services either in person or by telephone. Their counselors are available by phone 24 hours, 7 days a week and can be reached at 800-456-6327. There is no charge for counseling services provided by Perspectives to Northwestern employees.

Assistance is available, but not limited to, the following areas:

Marital/Family/Parenting Issues

Relationship Issues



Mental/Emotional Health

Alcoholism/Substance Abuse

Child/Elder Care


Workplace Issues

For more information about Perspectives, please visit their website: www.perspectivesltd.com/home.aspx . The NU Username is NOR501 and the password is perspectives.

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Alice from the Evanston campus asked, "Several of my coworkers are so good at what they do, I think they deserve special recognition from the University. How can I help make that happen?"

Through Northwestern's employee recognition programs, anyone may nominate an outstanding employee for a Service Excellence Award. The nomination process is easy: Go to www.northwestern.edu/hr/training/servrec.html, fill out the downloadable nomination form, and e-mail it to Maudell Gaines at maudell-gaines@northwestern.edu. Upon receipt, the form is sent to the staff member's supervisor to confirm that the award is deserved. A staff member may be nominated multiple times.

Besides receiving a certificate, all Service Excellence Award winners in a given year attend a recognition luncheon held in their honor.

If you would like additional information about the Service Excellence Award program, please contact Maudell Gaines at (847) 491-7509.

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BR from the Evanston campus asked, "Can staff members purchase laptops and desktops for personal or home use at discounted rates through Northwestern?"

Yes. Northwestern has contracts in place with Dell and Apple, special websites have been set up through these vendors to give staff access to savings. To make a purchase with the staff discount, go to www.northwestern.edu/uservices/purchasing and click on the Purchasing Resource Services link. Select Personal Purchases from the left-hand menu. This will lead you to the Northwestern links for Apple and Dell as well as other vendors that offer discounted pricing.

If you would like additional information about personal purchases or have questions, please contact Purchasing Resource Services at (847) 491-8120 or purchasing@northwestern.edu. The program will be improved this year as more vendors participate.

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Erinn from the Chicago Campus asked, "If I see a violation of Northwestern University policy, what should I do?"

A good first step is to review the University’s Standards for Business Conduct, accessible at www.northwestern.edu/auditing/how/standards.pdf.   This document provides resources and guidelines for acceptable standards of behavior.  Then speak to your supervisor, department chair, dean, or central administration personnel to solicit their support and help.  If you feel uncomfortable discussing matters with your supervisor, however, go to the University’s ethics and compliance web site at www.northwestern.edu/ethics. The web site provides valuable information, including policy links and contact information for any questions about these policies. It covers everything from academic dishonesty to workplace violence, and contains links to contact people, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and additional websites.  It also includes information on the hotline operated for the University by Ethics Point, a service that provides an additional means of reporting misconduct or violations o f University policies.

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 Lynn from the Chicago Campus asked, "I've heard there are discounts available to the Northwestern community; what are they?  How do I take advantage of them?"

University Services has the information you need!  WildCARD Advantage Discounts are available from participating businesses in Evanston, Chicago, the Suburbs and Online.   Hundreds of businesses are part of this program.  Discount categories include Automotive, Clothing & Accessories, Food & Restaurants, Home Furnishings & Maintenance, Sporting Goods, and more!  WildCARD Advantage Discounts are for the personal use of Northwestern University faculty, staff, and students with a valid, unexpired WildCARD.   Please see http://www.northwestern.edu/uservices/wildcard/index.html  for additional information, including new additions to the list of participating businesses.

Note that vendors provide all the information for their individual listings and are responsible for informing University Services of any listing changes.


Please feel free to send us suggestions for future “NUSAC in Action” topics.  Contact us at nusac@northwestern.edu.

NUSAC – celebrating 35 years of staff advocacy and pursuing excellence

J. H. from the Chicago Campus writes: "I have been hearing about the Performance Excellence process. What is that and how does it relate to annual performance reviews?"

To quote the Performance Excellence Handbook found on the HR website under the Development tab at http://www.northwestern.edu/hr:

"The Performance Excellence Process helps the individuals and organizations of Northwestern accomplish their goals.  It encourages leaders and their teams to set priorities for what needs to be accomplished and how things need to be done.  This results in greater workplace effectiveness, efficiency, and engagement."

This process is designed to build a good partnership between staff members and their managers in deciding what performance expectations are for the year, regularly checking on progress, and then reviewing performance at the end of the year to celebrate successes and look for ways to improve.  It includes work objectives, behaviors, and professional development. The general timeline for this process is:

Stage 1: Set expectations at the beginning of the performance year (June)

Stage 2: Discuss quarterly progress

Stage 3: Review performance at the end of the year (May)

In addition to the Performance Excellence Handbook, several other documents are available at the same Human Resources URL:

    * A summary of the May 2005 NUSAC Brown Bag titled "Getting the Most From Your Performance Review"

    * A blank, downloadable copy of the Performance Excellence Annual Plan to be filled out as a joint effort between managers and employees (which replaces the old five point scale performance review with a more detailed seven point scale)

    * A document on recognizing and rating eight Northwestern Behaviors:

          o Coachability

          o Collegiality

          o Communication

          o Compliance

          o Customer Focus

          o Efficiency

          o Initiative

          o Leadership (as applicable)

Over the past five years, Northwestern has gradually been rolling out the Performance Excellence system across the university when schools or departments say they are ready.  By spring 2010, around three quarters of the University will be using it. Units or individuals, who are not yet utilizing this system, can contact their HR consultant for more information:  (312-503-8481) in Chicago or (847-491-7507) in Evanston.

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Q.J. from the Chicago Campus writes: "What tuition benefits are available to Northwestern staff?"

Human Resources (HR) offers a variety of options for full-time staff, including an employee's spouse and dependent children, under the Educational Assistance and Tuition Plans.

Tuition benefits are available under the following Plans:

  • Educational Assistance for employees provides reduced tuition for courses at Northwestern, with reductions up to 85% for undergraduate study and up to 75% for graduate study.
  • Reduced Tuition for an employee's spouse or eligible dependent children offers 40% to 90% reductions in Northwestern tuition costs for undergraduate degree programs, (and undergraduate courses taken at the School of Continuing Studies), for eligible full-time employees.  Portable Tuition for an employee's eligible dependent children provides tuition assistance of 40% of the billed tuition from regionally accredited colleges or universities, (not to exceed of the current Northwestern tuition bill), for eligible full-time employees. The tuition assistance is provided per child; the benefit is not divided by the number of children.

Please note that to take advantage of the Reduced and Portable Tuition Plans, an employee must have accrued a specified number of years of "regular status continuous full-time service".  A full explanation of eligibility, as well as what's available, is on the HR website, www.northwestern.edu/hr/benefits/plans/tuition.

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Jennifer from Chicago wants to know what fitness opportunities and discounts are available for staff who want to be proactive about their health. 


 There are many benefits and resources obtainable through some of the health care plans available at NU. 

   * If you have a Blue Cross PPO or HMO, you can go to 
www.bcbsil.com and sign up for the Personal Health Manager which has links to programs to help you quit smoking, lose weight, get prenatal care, get life coaching, and more.  You get double rewards for using these services because not only do you improve your health, but you earn Blue Points, which can be used for reward items through their program. 

There are more services for both which can be accessed once a member has joined the respective programs. 

Another good place to look for fitness opportunities at Northwestern is on the 
http://www.fitrec.northwestern.edu/ site, which contains links to available recreation facilities on the Evanston campus and membership costs, classes and schedules, and various sports clubs and groups.  On the Chicago campus, staff can get membership to Holmes Place Health Club through University Services: http://www.univsvcs.northwestern.edu/fitness/

Discounts to other fitness businesses in both Evanston and Chicago such as
Athletico, Chicago Kayak, Evanston South Curves for Women, Evanston Athletic Club (EAC), McGaw YMCA, and several yoga studios are also available through the Wildcard Advantage program: http://www.univsvcs.northwestern.edu/WildCARDAdv/index.htm

With all of these opportunities for good health and fitness available, there is no reason not to take action and have fun!



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D.C. from the Evanston campus writes: “I’m planning a trip to Europe, and need to update my passport.  Is there anywhere on campus that can help me with the process?”


 In January 2008, University Services launched a program through the WildCard office which will take and process your passport or VISA photos.  Your photos can then be used to process your application at the post office (http://www.usps.com/passport/welcome.htm). Remember, you need a passport even to travel to Canada and Mexico.


The WildCard office is available from 8:30am – 5pm, Monday – Friday to take passport and VISA photos.  The photos come in “2 x 2” pairs and are cut to official size for U.S. Passports and VISAS. Your photos can be processed in 3 – 5 minutes depending on the traffic in the office that day.  The photos will also come in a protective sleeve which can be presented with your passport application.


The cost is $12 for the first set, and $3 for each additional set.  Both costs include sales tax. 


The WildCard offices are located in the following buildings:

Evanston Campus – Norris University Center, Underground Level, Phone 7-6843
Chicago Campus – Abbott Hall, Room 100, Phone 3-0548

If you want information on passport or VISA photos, please visit the University Services website at http://www.northwestern.edu/uservices/passportsvending/passportphotoservices/index.html or email uservices@northwestern.edu to request the necessary information of interest.  The WildCard website is at http://www.univsvcs.northwestern.edu/WildCard/