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Professors With(out) Benefits

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

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  • McK says:

    @McK Perhaps this is a bunch of asshat pomposity, but here goes: If this is the only reasoning McKinsey offered, they are a bunch of idiots. Fringe Benefits at Columbia help us recruit and retain the best professors and talent. The reason our benefits are better is because we are better than the other 16. It’s not easy selling a move to the very expensive Manhattan, where professors live in apartments & lofts, not sprawling suburban McManses.

    That is all.

  • also says:

    @also what motivation would a bunch of harvard grads have to keep our beloved alma at the top?

    1. no no no says:

      @no no no you’ve got it all wrong. you’re assuming that they care about personal ties more than about earning lots and lots of money by making the right decision. but let me remind you that these people are mckinsey employees.

      1. very often says:

        @very often cost cutting consulting contracts are fixed fee, unless columbia was stupid to sacrifice long term planning for a variable (i.e. you earn more if you cut more) fee contract… I’m an alum and have been on a cost cutting initiative where we were on a variable fee contract, and we cut so much and saved so much it would have been embarrassing for our relationship if we didn’t give some of it back. cost cutting in many cases can be short sighted–you could theoretically cut every cost if you didn’t already set parameters about your expectations for future growth…

  • Come on... says:

    @Come on... Please get the full story before you publish. Faculty are so protected here that no one seems to care about the administrative staff who are getting the short end of this deal. Officers of the University include most non-union staff. From Library staff to club advisers to admissions officers. These are talented staff who work for an institution like Columbia to support the educational mission, support our students, and to hopefully make a better life for themselves and their families. They are not protected by tenure, oftentimes make a lot less than they would in the public world in exchange for good benefits like tuition remission and good health care (which they contribute a significant amount to pay for). They are now being told that their benefits will be cut, they have not received a normal cost-of-living increase in years due to “the economy”, and their are no alternatives in the job market. Columbia knows this and knows they have no choice but to accept these awful changes. Probe deeper next time please!

    1. Read the text says:

      @Read the text Bwog was critical of the (totally insane) benefit cuts. The PPC has reverted some of the worst proposed cuts, and bwog is covering it. What else do you want from bwog?

      1. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous True, but bwog did define Officers of the University as those “which mostly means faculty, researchers, and librarians”. That’s not true–there are more officers outside the pools of faculty, researchers, and librarians than those inside that pool. Think of Lerner–almost everyone who works for Financial Aid, SDA, OMA, UEM are officers. Same for Admissions, and the same for Alumni Affairs & Development. And this holds true for all 17 schools at Columbia. To say that most of the Officers are faculty is incorrect.

      2. ... says:

        @... Maybe more focus on the people this really affects…non-faculty administrators who do not receive subsidized apartments or job security.

    2. The article's link says says:

      @The article's link says “Officers include faculty, researchers, librarians, professionals, directors, managers, and other administrators.

      Support Staff includes employees who provide clerical, technical, maintenance, and administrative support to the University. (Most support staff are represented by various labor unions.)”

      So it seems like officers are mostly faculty or researchers or directors. The people who actually staff the university, I’m sure, get even shittier benefits, but it looks like only the officer’s benefits are getting cut right now.

  • hmm says:

    @hmm This sounds remarkably like “Ryan” plan on a corporate scale, both in the broad contours and surprisingly even in the carefully sugar-coated language: “health savings accounts,” “retirement savings accounts,” “guaranteed-benefit to guaranteed contribution,” etc. Quite an interesting insight into how some of the most influential, most presumably “liberal” members of the opinion class really think.

    1. ... says:

      @... both plans were probably written by the same temps at mckinsey, compensated at $12/hr and billed out at $250/hr, signed for by the overcompensated and lazy who refuse to do their jobs.

    2. Hit it on the head says:

      @Hit it on the head You should have seen how the higher ups pushed the new health plan ‘options’ last spring. Staff on the POS 100 Health plans were called “wasteful” and “indulgent”. The new High Deductible plan was shown off as whispers of “Walmart plan” were heard in the back of the room.
      How does this affect the students? If you think service is bad now from the officers who do the work so that you can get proper housing, fin aid, admitted to classes, solving admin hurdles so you can get your bizness done—wait til the new lower benefit tier of officers starts mucking around with even lower morale.

      I know there is no social contract with any employer, but Columbia was different. There was a sense of investment when an officer earned a degree on campus and then worked even harder at the University because there was an allegiance.
      Consultants come and go, but the day to day grind of an officer’s duties here go on after all the flow charts and powerpoints gather dust.

  • My suggestions... says:

    @My suggestions... … stop paying fucking sketchy over-priced consultants to do your shit.

  • Paying says:

    @Paying McKinsey probably cost over a mil

    1. Consulting says:

      @Consulting Seriously, and for what? I could put 100 smoking monkeys in a room and eventually they’d write me this:

      1. Fire people.
      can’t do that?
      2. Cut Benefits.

      Thanks, here’s the invoice:
      100 * Malboro Lights @ $10.95
      100 * Monkey Food @ $15.00
      Management Fees: Whatever you have left in the endowment

  • how much money says:

    @how much money do professors make, anyway?

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous professor $109k between $275k, plus benefits free private school tuition for the kids, subsidized college tuition, housing allowance, pension etc

    assistant prof $60k to $193k same benefits

    Med, dental, Law Bussiness and engineering professor are paid better. So are endowed profesorships, chairman, committe members etc.

    considering most dont even have to work a 40 hr week, some much less, its a very good deal. However, in most disciplines becoming a professor at columbia is as hard as winning the lotto

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous The grant grubbing professulas are the reason students can’t find jobs. If securities rules applied to grants, half the faculty would be behind bars. The professulas are refugees from real work and implore their students to become commy nutty ochranozers and stay away from industry. They do everything in their power to assure their students are employed either for the government or non-profits with government grants. Government grants should end once a professula gets tenure (let them get industry grants after that) and they should be required to work in a real job for two years before finishing their terminal degree. They should be required to attian the full licnesure requisite for their fields of supposed expertise. Don’t worry, the Tea Party will bring back the Anarchic Tradition of the American Revolution to liberate us from such elistist.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Officers also include adjuncts who get about 5k a class and haven’t gotten a raise in fifteen years.

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