After beginning her new role on Jan. 1, Sarah Latham, executive vice president for finance and administration, has spent her first months in the position evaluating the departments she oversees and setting priorities, she said in an interview with The Herald.
After former Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Barbara Chernow ’79 retired last fall, the University announced Latham’s hiring from the University of California-Santa Cruz in September, The Herald previously reported. She now oversees divisions that encompass nearly 1,000 staff members, including workers from financial affairs, human resources, dining, facilities, the Office of Information and Technology and other auxiliaries such as the bookstore, according to a September press release from the University.
In her first 90 days, Latham said she met with a number of people who work in her divisions and has begun to “build relationships” with them. One of the first she met with was Brown Dining Services, the largest division she oversees.
“We have met one-on-one numerous times since (Latham) started at the University,” wrote George Barboza, vice president of Dining Services, in an email to The Herald. “It has always been a productive and supportive relationship.”
One high priority for Latham is ensuring that team members are engaged and feel supported, she said.
“(If staff) come to work everyday and they feel really engaged and they feel part of the decision-making process, that goes a long way,” she said.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Dining Services has experienced challenges in staffing which Latham said she addressed in her meetings with the division. The Herald previously reported on the shortage of Dining Services workers.
“We’re still in an adjustment mode as we’re all adapting through the pandemic,” Latham said. “We had (previously) had to ramp down certain services or reassign individuals — we’re adapting to being back in person and ramping back up.”
Latham said she has also received “regular updates” about the ongoing bargaining process for a new union contract for Dining Services workers — represented under the United Service and Allied Workers of Rhode Island — from the University’s bargaining team. Latham also said she has had “some contact” with the union bargaining team.
“It’s really important that I support the established bargaining structure that’s been agreed to by both the union and the campus. I don’t want to interfere with that,” she said.
As of March, Latham said that both sides of the bargaining process had “made a lot of progress” and are focused on the needs of the campus community.
“I think they’re down to the final items that need to be resolved,” Latham said. “I want to hear their general perspectives of how we can support them,” she added.
For her first 90 days, Latham said she aimed to evaluate her divisions through four different criteria: organizational culture, operational health, communication and resilience. Her goal was to make sure that team members have the training and the tools they need to alleviate “gaps in service,” along with proper communication avenues to feel heard, she added. From there, she looked to “develop priorities” from the themes that appeared.
Barboza wrote in his email that he expects to work closely with Latham on a five-year strategic plan to continuously improve the University dining experience for workers and students.
“(Dining) is such an important function to support our whole campus but especially our students,” Latham said.
Vice President for Business and Financial Services Beth Gentry, who oversees the University bookstore, mail services, transportation and a number of other divisions, also has regular meetings with Latham and is looking forward to an “honest and open relationship,” she wrote in an email to The Herald.
“I will work along with her and the rest of our leadership team to collaborate in any areas she deems appropriate,” Gentry wrote, noting that Latham introduced herself to her department shortly after arriving at Brown.
Gentry also wrote that she hopes to work with Latham on implementing a “flexible parking model designed to better fit the needs of the University.”
Marie Williams, vice president for University Human Resources, wrote in an email to The Herald that she “welcomes the extensive financial and administrative experience and knowledge that (Latham) has brought to Brown.”