December 15, 2003

Senate to help examine retiree health benefits

By Michael Terrazas

Opening the Nov. 25 University Senate meeting, held in the Jones Room of Woodruff Library, was a presentation from Bob Pennington, vice president for alumni affairs and special programs. Pennington gave Senate members an overview of the Association of Emory Alumni (AEA): what it does, who its constituency is, and how it goes about its work.

Currently some 97,407 Emory alumni are scattered worldwide, Pennington said, and each is a member of AEA. One challenge is that more than half of those alumni have graduated since 1986, so Pennington said AEA is consciously focusing on speaking to younger generations of alums. He walked the Senate through a recent survey of alumni attitudes toward giving, toward Emory in general and toward their own experiences at the University.

Pennington said faculty can be very helpful in the AEA's work in reaching out to alumni. "The essence of the educational experience at Emory is the student-faculty relationship," Pennington said.

Mike Mandl, executive vice president for finance and administration, announced that he will work with President Jim Wagner and the Senate executive committee to re-examine the University's benefits package for employees. Much of the work will be delayed until Mandl and his colleagues have a chance to observe an entire University budget cycle--Emory's current fiscal year ends on Aug. 31, 2004--but Mandl said one piece of the benefits package that will receive immediate attention is the University's contribution toward health benefits for retirees, specifically those retired individuals too young to qualify for Medicare. Mandl said he would have an update at the January Senate meeting.

Next on the agenda was a panel discussion featuring four former Senate presidents: sociology's Frank Lechner (president from 1993-94), theology's Luther Smith (1994-95), Oxford's William Cody (1997-98) and law's Frank Vandall (2001-02). The four professors talked about specific issues that arose during their tenures and also about University governance in general.

Key to shared governance, the four agreed, is a degree of mutual respect and trust among the administration, faculty, staff and students. All four said they perceived that trust to be damaged in recent years, and rebuiding it will be critical to moving forward. Cody said the administration needs to appreciate the history of collaborative governance, but at the same time, faculty, staff and students need to recognize the administration's ultimate responsibility and accountability for decisions.

In his remarks, Wagner updated the Senate on several "issues and opportunities" facing Emory and his administration. In the opportunity department, the search for a new provost was going well, Wagner said, and added the search advisory committee hopes to begin interviewing candidates in December. He also reminded the Senate that a search must begin for a new senior vice president for Institutional Advancement, following the announcement that Bill Fox will take over a new role as vice president for external affairs.

Wagner announced the conclusion of the draft process of the University Vision Statement and said it is the first step of a process that will culminate in a strategic plan for Emory and a comprehensive financial campaign.

Current issues facing Emory include the drug-testing policy that recently was revised; the question of employee benefits, which Mandl addressed earlier in the meeting; the continued challenge of diminished endowment income; and the recent challenges to University community that stemmed from incidents of racial insensitivity. Regarding the latter, Wagner said he hoped the community was moving beyond individual events to broader issues.

The next Senate meeting will be held Jan. 27 at 3:15 p.m. in the Jones Room.

If you have a question or concern for University Senate, e-mail President John Snarey at