On Sept. 26, the University Faculty Senate voted overwhelmingly to repudiate the Penn State administration’s ill-conceived "Take Care of Your Health" program, with its intrusive questionnaire — including questions like "Are you planning to become pregnant this year?" and "How often do you check your testicles for lumps?" — mandatory "health screenings" by third-party medical technicians, and regressive penalties for noncompliance.
The Penn State Chapter of the American Association of University Professors stands with the Faculty Senate on this fundamental point. In recognition of the administration’s suspension of the surcharge that, in the administration's own words, was intended to "drive participation" in this program, a senate proposal to suspend the entire program for a year was amended to a statement of support for the surcharge suspension.
But the senate, in a decisive vote, called for the suspension of the "working spouse" penalty of $100 per month, which is still in place at this time. The Penn State Chapter of the AAUP joins the senate in its call for the repeal of this discriminatory surcharge. The senate also called for the formation of a task force — to be convened jointly by the administration and the senate — and whose members would include staff, senators, administrators, and policy and legal experts from the university community and beyond.
This group would be charged to examine the real need for health benefit changes, evaluate fair alternatives, and present its recommendations to the senate for final approval. The task force as envisioned by the senate would be required to engage all Penn State employees — staff, research associates, postdocs, academic professionals, and faculty (including all contingent faculty) — in an open dialogue regarding the impact that any projected health benefit changes might have upon their health, finances and productivity.
To do this work, the task force will have to be granted access to the most recent — and most relevant — financial information, as well as projections of the university's anticipated health care costs. The group should also be empowered to seek independent analyses of these projections under a variety of scenarios.
We applaud the senate for its decisive action, and are grateful for its willingness to stand up for the basic right of all Penn State employees to have a voice in decisions that have a direct impact on their personal privacy and the health and welfare of their families. More than two weeks have passed since the senate endorsed this plan for an open and representative task force.
But, regrettably, the administration has not commented upon or accepted the senate's reasonable demand that the processes and thinking behind this now discredited plan be opened for independent examination by those most affected. In addition, the administration has yet to announce even a temporary suspension or easing of the $100 per month working-spouse penalty, which, if it remains in effect, has the potential to drive many Penn State faculty and staff families into inferior health care plans.
We are also concerned by statements and actions which suggest that the administration has yet to come to terms with the decisive rejection of their plan by thousands of employees. The repeated use of phrases like "perceived invasiveness," and the unsubstantiated claim that "we cannot delay the inevitable" in response to calls for a moratorium on the plan, do not inspire confidence.
The perception is not helped by the administration's recent announcement that it will give $100 to each employee who has or is willing to complete their participation in the biometric screening and WebMD questionnaire. Among other things, this move raises serious questions regarding its previous and ongoing claims of an impending crisis in health benefit costs.
The senate has acted. We urge all Penn State employees to write to President Rodney Erickson, and Board of Trustees Chairperson Keith Masser in support of the senate's proposal: a one year suspension of the working-spouse penalty, an independent task-force to examine the fiscal realities behind the administration’s claims of a health benefits "emergency," and consideration of alternatives that can address these issues without compromising employee health or privacy.
We also encourage faculty to copy their unit senators, and all faculty and staff to copy their letters, for good measure, to Senate Chair Professor Brenton Yarnal. Finally, we invite all concerned parties to share copies of their letters on the Penn State AAUP Facebook page to help us provide and maintain a record of these communications as we move forward in this process.
Unlike the Penn State administration, we do not propose a penalty for not taking any of these actions. We do note, however, that your health, and the health of the university community going forward, may very well depend upon it.
The Executive Council of the Penn State Chapter of the American Association of University Professors is made up of President Brian Curran, Vice President Michelle Rodino-Colocino and Secretary-Treasurer Nancy Ostiguy. They are The Daily Collegian’s Friday guest columnists. Email President Brian Curran at firstname.lastname@example.org.