Pennsylvania State University held a telephone press conference for reporters Thursday regarding its “Take Care of Your Health” wellness initiative. Administrators said the plan was an educated and well-intentioned attempt at managing skyrocketing health care costs – projected to grow by 13 percent by next year absent intervention – without passing that burden on to employees through higher deductibles and co-pays. Susan Basso, vice president for human resources, said Penn State’s average employee deductible is about $250, compared to a regional average of $1,500. The university believes that its new plan will lead to earlier detection of illnesses, leading to better health outcomes for employees and lower health care costs in the long run for Penn State, she said.
Donald Fischer, senior vice president and chief medical officer of Highmark Health Services, Penn State’s insurance provider, said that several studies – included one funded by Highmark– showed that such measures led to $1.65 in health care savings for every $1 spent on wellness initiatives. An independent researcher involved in that study, Ron Z. Goetzel, director of the Institute for Health and Productivity Studies at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, said the study offered sophisticated controls and was published in a peer-reviewed journal. It’s backed up by additional independent studies, he said.
The call followed a media blitzkrieg of negative coverage of the wellness measure, capstoned by a Harvard Business Review blog post called “The Danger of Wellness Programs: Don’t Become the Next Penn State.” Faculty have expressed outrage at the program’s punitive surcharges of $75 to $100 for not completing biometric screenings, online wellness profiles and physical exams, and for smoking and covering spouses and domestic partners eligible for health insurance through their own employers. Some faculty also have raised concerns about the uploading of their personal medical information into WebMD online, a third-party electronic records system.
During the call, David Gray, Penn State’s senior vice president, said seeds of the plan were in place as far back as 2008, and that the Faculty Senate was briefed on the plan in 2011, before the Jerry Sandusky story broke. He called that a fact some in the media “missed."
Basso said that although other university wellness programs have focused on positive participation incentives, Penn State saw no cost savings after pouring “millions” of dollars into such incentives in the past. Surcharges were the most “transparent” way to drive participation, she said, rather than artificially inflating health care contributions for employees to then offer a discount. No personal information will be used for punitive purposes and the employee medical information recently uploaded to WebMD will never be available to Penn State other than in aggregate form, she said.
Boston College’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors has sent a third letter to the Rev. William Leahy, the president, asking that the administration appoint an independent committee to examine the circumstances surrounding the creation and conduct of the oral history collection known as the Belfast Project. And for the third time, the AAUP board members have yet to receive a response from Father Leahy, the college’s provost or its board, said Susan Michalczyk, the college’s AAUP chapter president.
The controversial legal fight over access to oral history records at Boston College has been ongoing since 2011, when the U.S. Justice Department issued a subpoena for all materials from the Belfast Project to be turned over to British authorities investigating a 1972 killing of a Belfast mother of 10. The project included interviews with former members of the Irish Republican Army and other militia groups who fought during the Troubles and gave interviews with the understanding that the records would be kept in confidence until their death. This June, a federal appeals court ruled that the college would only have to turn over 11 of the 85 interviews.
While the case has brought up issues of academic freedom, it has also raised the question of whether the college violated professional standards by conducting research without appropriate policies or oversight for the project, Michalczyk said. The Boston College chapter of AAUP executive board members sent a first letter to the Boston College administration in March of 2012, asking that a committee be appointed to investigate “the review process that led to university funding for the project” as well as “the extent to which the research methods and procedures were subject to institutional review and oversight.”
Dave Quigley, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences responded to the letter, stating, “As this is a matter now before the courts, we will be better informed at the conclusion of the litigation to determine whether the particulars of this case warrant review of our research policies and protocols."
But a second letter to the administration from Michalczyk and the board brought more of the institution’s actions into question, including where the funding for the project came from. According to the letter, in the introduction to his 2010 book, Voices from the Grave, Belfast Project director Ed Moloney wrote that the bulk of the project was financed by Boston College. In a 2012 faculty forum, Father Leahy contradicted this statement and said all of the funding came from outside sources, Michalczyk said.
Boston College spokesman Jack Dunn said he was not even aware that the Aug. 20 letter was sent to the president. He said that since the case is still active before the courts, Dean Quigley’s April 2012 statement “remains valid.”
Michalczyk said the third letter — which simply reiterates the faculty members’ request for an investigative committee to look into the project — was prompted by an Aug. 6 blog post written by Moloney. In his scathing post, Moloney says he received “threats” from Boston College, and he concludes that “BC simply cannot be trusted. It is not a safe place to conduct research."
Faculty members took the “call to shun the university” from Moloney “very personally,” Michalczyk said, which is why she and other AAUP board members are once again calling for action from the Boston College administration.
Florida International University has suspended Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity while investigating screen shots of a series of postings on the brothers' Facebook page, The Miami Herald reported. Members of the fraternity aren't talking, but the Facebook posts (some of which are published with the Herald article) refer to some women as "sorusitutes," quote the availability of drugs (sometimes with tiered pricing for brothers and non-brothers) and apparent encouragement to engage in hazing.
City College of San Francisco on Tuesday formally asked its accreditor to reverse the decision that, a year from now, would strip the college of its accreditation, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. But to the disappointment of many students and faculty members, the college's request to the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges did not mention a recent report by the U.S. Education Department faulting the accreditor for being out of compliance with several rules that relate to its review of the college. Robert Agrella, a state-appointed trustee who has been running the college since shortly after the accreditor's decision to revoke recognition, defended the decision not to focus on the commission's own problems. "I believe that if the college changes direction and begins to attack the commission, rather than working with it to correct the problems in the institution, it will jeopardize our ability to maintain accreditation," he said.
About 150 students, meanwhile, demanding Agrella's ouster, staged a sit-in at San Francisco City Hall, KTVU News reported.
Citing concerns about shared governance, faculty members at Pennsylvania State University have formed an advocacy chapter of the American Association of University Professors. The association has two kinds of chapters: advocacy, for non-unionized faculty, and union. It’s unclear whether Penn State’s unique public-private status (it’s state-supported but privately chartered) would prevent future attempts to unionize, given current restrictions on tenure-track faculty unions at private institutions.
Brian Curran, president of the new chapter and professor of art history, said he couldn’t comment on any intent to unionize “at this time.” But through the advocacy chapter, he said he hoped to bring to Penn State a kind of transparency and shared governance that is lacking through the Faculty Senate. For example, he said, the body has no means of sending out mass e-mails to faculty to alert them of decisions.
The Faculty Senate president did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter.
Penn State faculty expressed outrage this summer at the university's new “Take Care of Your Health” wellness initiative, which requires that all faculty complete biometric screenings and online wellness profiles that include questions some faculty have said are invasive, such as those pertaining to mental health and frequency of testicular self-exams. Faculty who don’t complete the annual screenings will have to pay a $100 monthly surcharge.
Additional surcharges have been announced for smokers and for coverage for spouses and domestic partners eligible for insurance through their own employers.
The university has said that attempts to control its skyrocketing health care costs through voluntary measures proved unsuccessful. Susan Basso, vice president for human resources, has said the university's new program complies with health care privacy laws and that personal information will be used for health promotion only.
In an e-mail, a university spokesman said Penn State values shared governance "because we do encourage participation in many aspects of decision-making. We balance this with our need for administrative accountability." To that end, members of the faculty and staff were consulted on the health care plan as early as 2011, he said.
The post’s authors, well-known benefits experts Tom Emerick and Al Lewis, wrote that “Wellness is supposed to 'empower' employees but instead did just the opposite at Penn State. Ironically, the only thing that has empowered Penn State employees has been fighting back against this misdirected wellness tyranny.” Instead of a “‘culture of wellness,’ Penn State has created a culture of resentment,” they wrote, arguing that “Take Care of Your Health” may not save the university much money after all.
Basic calculations “would have told them that their 43,000 covered lives probably incurred a total of only about 100 wellness-sensitive medical inpatient events, like heart attacks, of which a few might have taken place in people who were not previously diagnosed and were therefore at least theoretically avoidable, saving the tiniest fraction of their healthcare spending. But we'll never know because they embarked on a prevention jihad against their employees without knowing the value of what they were trying to prevent.”
A Florida appeals court has reduced -- from $10 million to $200,000 -- the amount the University of Central Florida must pay to the family of a football player who died after drills in 2008, the Associated Press reported. The ruling concerned the extent to which the university has immunity from various types of lawsuits. The appeals court also denied a request by the university's athletics division for a new trial.
An Associated Press inquiry into e-mail messages by Mitch Daniels when he was governor of Indiana have revealed he was not a fan of the late historian Howard Zinn, and talked of trying to block his book from being used in schools or in teacher preparation programs. A new AP article on Sunday, based on additional e-mail messages obtained under open records laws, reveals that Daniels (now president of Purdue University) had another history book that he wanted in Indiana's schools. That book is America: The Last Best Hope, by William J. Bennett, a historian who was education secretary in the Reagan administration. E-mail messages show Daniels pushing to get the book distributed and praising it.
Courtesy of Amazon, here's the Publishers Weekly review: "Bennett, a secretary of education under President Reagan and author of The Book of Virtues, offers a new, improved history of America, one, he says, that will respark hope and a 'conviction about American greatness and purpose' in readers. He believes current offerings do not 'give Americans an opportunity to enjoy the story of their country, to take pleasure and pride in what we have done and become.' To this end, Bennett methodically hits the expected patriotic high points (Lewis & Clark, the Gettysburg Address) and even, to its credit, a few low ones (Woodrow Wilson's racism, Teddy Roosevelt's unjust dismissal of black soldiers in the Brownsville judgment). America is best suited for a high school or home-schooled audience searching for a general, conservative-minded textbook. More discerning adult readers will find that the lack of originality and the over-reliance on a restricted number of dated sources (Samuel Eliot Morison, Daniel Boorstin, Henry Steele Commager) make the book a retread of previous popular histories (such as Boorstin's The Americans). This is history put to use as inspiration rather than serving to enlighten or explain, but Bennett does succeed in shaping the material into a coherent, readable narrative."
Baylor University and the Baylor Alumni Association are considering a new affiliation in which the university would oversee alumni outreach that is now managed by the association, but there are tensions about the idea, The Waco Tribune reported. A key issue for many alumni is the independence of The Baylor Line, the alumni magazine, which has been a forum in which sometimes-frank criticism of the university has been published.
Evan Dobelle, who left the University of Hawaii's presidency amid criticism of his spending decisions, is facing questions about his expenses as president of Westfield State University, The Boston Globe reported. Westfield State's foundation closed his credit card account -- intended for modest expenses to help him raise money -- after he charged $8,000 for a four-night stay at the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok and $883 in clothing at the men's clothing store Louis Boston. Other expenses receiving scrutiny were charged to the credit card of Dobelle's assistant. During 68 months as president, the Globe reported, Dobelle has traveled out of state 76 times. Sometimes, those trips combined university business and pleasure. For instance, he flew to San Francisco for the university and then went to Bohemian Grove, the male-only retreat that is popular among moguls.
Dobelle has acknowledged some mistakes in spending, but he has argued that many of the charges were designed to raise the profile of Westfield State and to attract either donors, or attention, or international students. He said, for example, that he would not have impressed Thai educators by staying someplace more modest than the Mandarin Oriental. He noted many projects that are booming at Westfield State, which he said is now "the hottest college in New England."