My sources tell me that Mark Dienhart, when asked at the recent all-staff forum about extra days off around Christmas, got a little smile on his face and said I was in agreement with others on campus who thought that staff members have done an outstanding job this year.

That was Mark’s cleverly subtle – and politically astute – way of deferring to me while giving a reasonable hint of the good news to come.

And it is good news, indeed. It is my pleasure today to announce that staff members will get a little extra time off next month between Christmas and New Year’s – and to formally agree with Mark’s assessment that you certainly have had a stellar 2010.

St. Thomas will grant three additional paid days off: Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Dec. 27, 28 and 29. Combine those days with weekends and our four traditional holidays – Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day – and we will have a wonderful 11-day break from Dec. 23 through Jan. 2 before returning to work on Monday, Jan. 3.

Why give the extra time off? Why not just tell staff members that if they want those additional three days off, they should take them as vacation or personal days?

Well, I’m not inclined to play Scrooge, especially when I look back over a 2010 that in my opinion has been enormously successful. I mentioned in my academic convocation speech in September that St. Thomas was on a roll these days, and I meant it. That roll is because of the effort that everyone – staff as well as faculty – has made to keep us healthy and thriving.

Many economists say the nation is technically out of recession but I still see many signs that difficult times remain, and you have responded beautifully. You have confronted a wide variety of challenges – an uncertain economy, tight budgets, new policies, stiff competition for students, demographic changes and the tumult of construction projects – with resolve, spirit and a can-do attitude. The enrollment of a record class of more than 1,500 freshmen is ample evidence of this can-do attitude.

The result is a University of St. Thomas that is as strong and as vital as I can remember, and because of that I believe you deserve a little extra time off – at Christmas!

Some employees, including Public Safety officers, Physical Plant workers, IRT server administrators and Food Service workers, will have to work those days because they are classified as “essential” employees and are needed on campus. Other employees, including some Development staff members and coaches, also may need to work those days. All of them will get three extra days off as well, and will need to use them by the end of the fiscal year (June 30).

Department heads must notify Human Resources by Dec. 8 if they have essential employees who must work on Dec. 27, 28 or 29. Over the subsequent weeks, but no later than Jan. 30, department heads should notify their Human Resources partner when those employees will take their alternative days off. I want to assure all staff members that they will get the extra three days off, including any part-time or temporary employees whose normal days off are Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday.

I know we are a long way from Christmas … actually, I am focused just on enjoying Thanksgiving this week … but let me take this occasion to wish you an early – and a very – Merry Christmas!