MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon today issued the stunning announcement:
MSU will discontinue providing contributions towards retiree health care benefits for new employees (including, faculty and academic staff, executive management and Coalition members, unless itemized below) hired on or after July 1, 2010. This action has no impact on current employees or retirees.”
The statement appears to make MSU the first major university to jettison this increasingly important part of the overall compensation package offered to new hires. While the report goes on to say that the university might therefore adjust compensation packages to maintain its competitiveness in recruitment, there is little doubt that this puts the university at a serious competitive disadvantage as the word gets out.
The state’s dire economic situation already makes it challenging to lure top candidates from other states. (Will my spouse be able to get a good job? Is the quality of education at schools for my children at risk? Are Michigan winters as bad as some people say?)
The word on the academic street is also that MSU has been ratcheting up the pressure on faculty to be “grant active.” (No, this is not a new game for the Wii or a probiotic yogurt. It means already-stress faculty must find time to write more and more grants, even if they know many of them are going nowhere.) Junior and senior faculty alike have begun to grumble that the system increasingly requires them to raise the money for their salaries, without giving them the right to determine their own raises. While universities nationwide are becoming more corporate and less collegial, the unrelenting emphasis on the bottom line at MSU makes it even more apparent that institutions of higher learning are no longer cloistered enclaves, if they ever were.
Another paragraph in today’s letter from the president raises the question of whether this is at least partially a ploy in the negotiations for the first-ever contract with the UNTF, the Union of Non-Tenured Faculty: “It is important to note that we have not concluded negotiations with the Union for Non-Tenure Track Faculty, which include the matter of post-retirement health benefits.” Will the university back away from cutting the retirement health-care benefits for tenured faculty, while bludgeoning the UNTF into taking whatever it can get in its all-important first contract?
It is also worth asking whether including the public option in the new health care bill might at least have forestalled this decision by offering some hope of reducing the cost of health. Isn’t it time to eliminate the often counter-productive portion of each health-care premium that goes to insurance companies who add little or no value to our health-care system?
On a personal note, my decision to retire early was based in part on a desire to lock in my benefit package. Unless we can find the political will to stop enriching insurance companies, it seems clear that each succeeding generation in this country will work harder, for less, no matter what career he or she chooses.
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