The Maneater

UM System task force addresses faculty salaries and benefits

Betsy Rodriguez, UM System vice president of human resources, gave directional solutions to the rising costs of benefits and underpaid salaries.

Ben Kothe / Graphic Designer

The UM System is discussing ways to better balance costs associated with maintaining the quality of faculty benefits packages, and trying to raise the system’s pay levels at the same time, UM Vice President of Human Resources Betsy Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said MU faculty and staff, specifically, have not seen raises in years due to monetary allocations for faculty and staff benefit packages.

Over half of UM employees, which are either paid hourly or are salaried, make less than $50,000, according to the system-assembled Total Rewards Ad Hoc Task Force’s findings. Rodriguez also said that the faculty consider themselves overworked and unhealthy.

The task force is also charged with balancing liabilities of over $1 billion, which the system accrued from trying to balance unsustainable growth in benefits costs, Rodriguez said.

At the same time, the committee must address the MU’s “non-competitive” pay levels, which are low relative to peer institutions in the Association of American University, Rodriguez said.

In 2006, MU’s faculty salaries averaged $74,549, while the average salary of AAU members was $92,951.

To address this issue, the task force is planning to reallocate savings generated from better managing benefits cost to salaries, Rodriguez said at the April 24 Faculty Council meeting.

Nicole Monnier, Faculty Council academic affairs committee chairwoman, said the system has historically treated salaries and benefits as separate entities.

“(The system) is setting this up as if salary increases and benefits are an either/or (situation),” she said. “The money goes to salary, or it goes to benefits, and for the past number of years, that money has gone to benefits.”

One recommendation from the task force is for the extra savings incurred from saving on benefits to go to faculty salaries, Rodriguez said. Strategies for doing so include identifying new funding sources, reallocating from lower priorities to improve pay, and updating traditional practices and committees to include all employee perceived benefits.

Sudarshan Loyalka, Faculty Council fiscal affairs committee chairman, said two-thirds of faculty medical costs have traditionally been provided by the university, while one-third of the costs come out of the faculty’s own pockets.

According to Loyalka, the medical costs for the entire faculty body have been rising by $3 million each year. The task force predicts that by 2024, the rate of increase could multiply to $24 million annually.

To help alleviate the problem associated with employee retirement benefits, faculty members began putting 1 to 1.5 percent of their salary into their own retirement benefits in 2010, under former UM System President Gary Forsee’s mandate, Loyalka said.

Additional solutions discussed by the task force include using medical plan options to lower costs and encourage healthy behavior.

One recommendation made by the task force is to perform wellness checks on employees and promote existing wellness programs, which only have a 30 percent participation rate among faculty and staff, Rodriguez said.

This solution would involve giving $100 incentives to employees who participate in such programs, and potentially searching for ways to link indicators of healthy employee behavior to the amount of medical plan premiums paid by the university.

However, Angela Speck, council member and associate professor of physics and astronomy, said while she has no problem with the idea of rewarding faculty for looking after their health, the methods of quantifying health levels may be problematic.

“The problem is, how do you determine whether people really are healthy,” she said. “It’s not, ‘are you healthy’ — it’s ‘are you doing things to keep yourself healthy?’”

Rodriguez said discussions with campus constituent groups will take place through May 2014, and after receiving faculty input, further development of the recommendations will continue.

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