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March 18, 2002

Benefits changes still under consideration

By Michael Terrazas


Emory’s campus may have been quiet last week during Spring Break, but one issue is still making a lot of noise: employee benefits.

No decision has yet been announced on the administration’s proposal to make changes to the University’s employee benefits package as a way to fight spiraling health care costs, and whatever ultimately is decided, one thing is certain: There has been no shortage of opinion.

Each of the five public meetings on the subject held from March 1–6 was well-attended, and three of them drew standing room-only crowds. All told, nearly 1,000 people attended the meetings, and many more watched the two that were webcast live (and are archived at

John Temple, executive vice president and chief operating officer, and Alice Miller, vice president for Human Resources, led the meetings and presented the proposed changes, which include:

• adopting a 5 percent basic University contribution to employees’ retirement plans, beginning at age 21, with a five-year vesting period. The University also would cut its matching contribution to 1.5 to 1, up to 3 percent.

• cutting University’s contribution to retiree health insurance premiums from the current 69 percent to 40 percent, with a 5 percent annual cap on increases.

• adopting a graded Courtesy Scholarship benefit based on years of service. Employees with less than five years of service would receive a 50 percent University contribution to dependents’ tuition; five to 10 years would receive 75 percent; 10 years or more would receive 100 percent. Employees taking coursework themselves would receive 80 percent University contribution (regardless of years of service), and the benefit would be eliminated for spouses.

None of Emory’s administrators expected any of the proposals to be popular, and the public meetings bore this out.
Employees expressed a range of emotions, most of them negative, and some meetings even became combative.

Through it all, Temple and Miller maintained that the proposed changes are necessary to bring University spending in line with declining growth in income.

“I think it’s pretty clear that 100 percent of Emory’s employees do not want us to change benefits in any way,” Temple told a group of perhaps 60 faculty and staff packed in Grady Hospital’s Oppenheimer Room on March 6.

Several employee groups, including the University Senate, the College Executive Committee and Employee Council, are working on some kind of report or resolution on the issue. For example, at the March 1 public meeting (which it arranged), the College Executive Committee asked for volunteers to study the issue and draft a statement from faculty. Five volunteered, calling themselves the Budget & Benefits Working Group (BBWG).

The group put together a resolution that will be voted on by the college faculty at a meeting to be held Wednesday, March 20, at 4 p.m. in 208 White Hall. In a nutshell, the proposed resolution calls upon the administration and the Board of Trustees to approve an increase in endowment spending to make up for the current budget crunch, for the board to meet with faculty to discuss Emory’s financial situation, and for the University as a whole to launch a capital campaign to replenish the endowment capital that is spent.

“We tried to keep everything complicated out of it,” said John Boli, associate professor of sociology and one of the five faculty in the BBWG. Boli said, if the administration decided benefit cuts are unavoidable, the group will draft a second resolution.

Robert Agnew, professor of sociology and acting director of the College Executive Committee, said the proposed resolution was circulated to faculty last week for review pending a vote at Wednesday’s meeting. Agnew said the faculty may also consider a report from Sid Stein, chair of the University Senate’s fringe benefits committee, which is evaluating all the proposed changes.

According to President Bill McBride, Employee Council is drafting an open letter to University President Bill Chace. McBride said the letter, which will be debated at the council’s March 20 meeting, deals comprehensively with the proposed changes and his constituents’ opposition to them.

Meanwhile, on the administration side, President Bill Chace said in an interview that nothing has been decided (see story). The Board of Trustees’ Executive Committee met last Thursday, and the benefits issue was on the agenda. Information on what action the board took or recommended, if any, was not available at presstime.