Our dear university, hit hard by the recession, has been searching for ways to cut expenses.

With assistance from consulting firm McKinsey, they’ve been weighing their options, some of which so upset Michele Moody-Adams that (have you heard?) she resigned as Dean of the Columbia College. While these recommendations have not been made public—and perhaps shall never see the light of day—the University has enacted other policies aimed at saving money, including cutting back on payments for professors’ health insurance and their children’s college tuition.

Back in April,  the Task Force on Fringe Benefits (advised by McKinsey, which compared Columbia’s benefits program to those of 16 other universities) released a 38-page report. The report recommended sharply curtailing so-called “fringe benefits” for “Officers of the University” (which mostly means faculty, researchers, and librarians).

These are the specific recommendations the report made:

  • Only pay 80% (instead of 100%) of tuition costs for professors’ children who attend Columbia, and 40% (instead of 50%) of tuition cost for professors’ children who attend other schools. This one is self-explanatory, but extremely costly: professors would have to pay over $40,000 more for their kids to attend Columbia for four years! …Which is less than a “normal” parent pays for one year. But still.
  • Only allow faculty and staff members who are enrolled in a degree program to take one Columbia course (instead of 15 course credits) per semester for free.
  • Replace the generous POS 90 and POS 100 health insurance plans with a High-Deductible Health Plan and Health Savings Account. In English: In exchange for a monthly fee, the POS 90 and POS 100 plans cover 90% or 100% of all your health expenses once you’ve spent around $200 (known as the deductible) on health expenses each year. It’s a pretty sweet deal, so sweet that these plans are actually considered “Cadillac plans” and subject to high taxes under Obamacare. The HDHP, on the other hand, has lower monthly fees but a much higher deductible. The idea is that you put the money you would have spent on the monthly payments into a tax-free “health savings account,” instead of paying high monthly fees and relying on the University to pay for most of your medical expenses.
  • Stop giving contributions to retired professors and instead encourage them to open retirement accounts when they’re young. The University is basically taking the same strategy they took with health insurance: transition from a system in which the University makes payments to employees to one in which the University only provides accounts for professors to fill with a portion of their annual salary.

Unsurprisingly, these proposals caused an uproar among the faculty. Compounding the problem was the fact that faculty salaries had not kept up with inflation or the rent increases in the prices of their Columbia-owned apartments. Those apartments, by the way, have to be surrendered by professors emerita within three years after they retire.

Fortunately for the faculty and staff, the much-maligned Policy and Planning Committee, just announced that they have decided to opt for less severe cuts than the Task Force recommended in April.

Here are the details on the PPC’s act of mercy:

  • Columbia will continue to pay 100% of Columbia tuition and 50% of non-Columbia tuition for professors’ children, but only once the professor has been employed at Columbia for at least four years.
  • The POS 90 and POS 100 plans will be made more expensive and gradually phased out while the HDHP is introduced, but in addition a new POS 80 plan will be created. As the name suggests, the POS 80 plan will cover 80% of medical expenses after the deductible has been reached each year.
  • Changes to the retirement plan and the number of Columbia courses degree-seeking faculty and staff are allowed to take each year have not yet been announced.

Professors seem relieved that they have dodged a serious bullet, though not necessarily thrilled with the changes. “The recommended changes in April were a disaster,” Professor and LitHum Chair Chistia Mercer told Spec. “Columbia would have become a second-rate university.” Of course, money-saving will continue to be proposed and implemented, and there’s no telling what effect they will have on Columbia. Dean Moody-Adams, for one, believed that whatever recommendations were contained in the (other) McKinsey report could “compromise the College’s academic quality and financial health.”

Tool of the trade via Wikimedia