Calls for Shared Governance at Loyola Chicago

Faculty don't think they are being listened to -- especially on health insurance.

November 18, 2019
 
Istockphoto.com/Cecilie Arcurs

Three years into the tenure of Loyola University Chicago’s first lay president, Jo Ann Rooney, faculty members there have outstanding concerns about her leadership style and shared governance. Most recently, many professors objected to a switch in health insurance carriers just prior to open enrollment.

“Crazy to find out about the change at the 11th hour with no information now about what is covered under this plan and to what amount,” reads one of more than 100 similar comments collected by the university’s American Association of University Professors chapter late last month, after the university announced via email its plan to switch from long-term carrier Blue Cross Blue Shield to Aetna. “Wonderful that we finally receive a link that allows us to determine if our providers are even in this plan nine days before open enrollment. Virtually no time to financially plan for anything. This is ridiculously irresponsible on the part of HR.”

The university says the switch to Aetna will avoid monthly premium increases for employees for the first time in years. It also says that some 800 providers currently seen by those Loyola insures will be added to its network. And, of course, health-care changes tend be controversial anywhere because they have such personal implications for employees and their families. Yet faculty members at Loyola continue to raise specific concerns about the new plan -- and how it was introduced.

Complaints about the new plan itself include loss of trusted and reliable in-network care providers and co-payment increases. Several faculty members, in comments to Inside Higher Ed, the AAUP and internal emails to each other, also have criticized the plan as “regressive” as compared to other institutions’, in that the highest-paid Loyola employees do not pay in to their plans significantly more than the lowest paid.

All plans divide full-time employees into three tiers: those making less than $40,000 annually, those making $40,001 to $120,000, and those making $120,001 or more. So according to Loyola's first provider plan option under Aetna, for instance, an employee with a covered spouse and children making $40,001 annually would pay $701.45 per month, with wellness discounts. Someone making, say, $400,001, would pay $766.62 for the same coverage. Some professors have postulated that adding another tier to the coverage plan would have enabled the university to stay with Blue Cross Blue Shield while keeping premiums flat for most -- but not the highest-paid -- employees.

Process is of equal concern. As several AAUP-collected comments mention, Loyola once had a Benefits Advisory Committee that could have helped the university make its decision about carriers and keep faculty members apprised of discussions. But that committee is now essentially defunct, following leadership changes in the human resources department.

“I would have rather paid a higher premium with [Blue Cross] than to lose all my family’s providers,” reads another comment to AAUP. “The lack of consultation and cavalier communication about this change shows the utter disregard that the [university] administration has for its faculty and staff.”

In addition to the AAUP survey, which was shared with the administration, Loyola’s Faculty Council passed a resolution expressing “consternation and shock at the way this decision was made and announced.” The document also calls for a reconsideration of the switch to Aetna, the reconstitution of the benefits advisory committee, and “urges President Rooney to commit to practicing shared governance in future decisions.”

In response to questions about the health-care plan, Winifred Williams, chief diversity and inclusion officer and head of human resources at Loyola, said in a statement that a “communication campaign” for the 2020 benefits open enrollment period actually began in August and continued last month. Open enrollment began Nov. 1 but has already been extended a week “to provide our employees with additional time to make decisions for themselves and their families.”

Williams added, “We have heard and understand the personal perspectives that some employees may have regarding the change; however, the decision to partner with Aetna was made for the greater good of the majority of the Loyola faculty and staff community.” The university’s goal is to "provide faculty and staff with competitive medical insurance that includes quality coverage while also mitigating rising costs for our employees and their dependents. The partnership with Aetna results in cost savings for all benefit-eligible faculty and staff while maintaining the same high-quality level of coverage, broad services and expanded provider choices with a national company.”

Beyond Health-Care Concerns

Beyond health insurance, the faculty has struggled to feel heard by Rooney. Last academic year, for example, Loyola decided to end regular public hours at the Loyola University Museum of Art in downtown Chicago, which permanently houses European art from the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Baroque eras. In an interview, Wayne Magdziarz, senior vice president at Loyola and chief financial officer, said the museum remains open for private and internal use. But staffing and securing it for regular public visitors was not prudent from a financial perspective, he said.

Then and now, however, some professors wonder why the university can't leverage a significant collection located on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile as a fundraising and marketing opportunity.

“How can you be so intellectually impoverished that you can’t see this as an asset?” said Benjamin Johnson, associate professor of environmental history at Loyola and president of the campus AAUP chapter.

Seemingly as suddenly to many professors, Loyola last year also condensed its English as a second language program,  Johnson said and he and other professors worried that the decision would deter would-be international students from applying, just as Loyola -- like all institutions -- faces a declining population of U.S. high school students.

Linda Rousos, a part-time instructor, wrote in an op-ed in the university’s student newspaper, the Loyola Phoenix, that the “administration evidently failed to consider the many ramifications of its decision and has yet to present any plan for international students who are impacted. International students currently studying English full-time and hoping to enter Loyola degree programs will need to leave the U.S. or apply to other universities offering English language courses.”

Ryan Nowack, associate director of the program, said via email, "To clarify, we continue to staff the needs of the students. We are doing that with a model of full-time and part-time faculty. Since we have seen a continued decline in numbers of students requesting services, this staffing model is working well. We are positioned to change the model as needs arise." (Note: This paragraph was added after publication to clarify that the English language learning program was condensed, not eliminated.)

This fall, Loyola also offered tenured faculty members 60 and older a voluntarily transition to retirement incentive program. Magdziarz said it’s not yet clear how many professors will be part of the program. But Johnson said he’d learned that the one-time deal of 200 percent of a year’s salary was so attractive that preliminary applications numbered about 100. That’s about one-sixth of the faculty -- and their tenured faculty lines, he said, doubting that those would be filled with new tenure-track hires after the retirements. Magdziarz, meanwhile, said that every line will be assessed individually, weighing both program needs and potential areas for growth within other parts of the university.

Tavis D. Jules, associate professor of cultural and education policy studies and chair of the Faculty Council, said that body was consulted only on the voluntary retirement plan and that it has “concerns about how the administration enacts shared governance.”

Jules and others contacted for this story noted that Rooney formed a task force last spring on shared governance. And so, Jules said via email, “we are hoping that the president’s task force on shared governance will clarify some of the inconsistencies across the system.”

In the interim, the university’s AAUP chapter sent a letter to the university’s governing board, saying that Rooney’s administration seemed to be cutting away at the university while making no clear effort to fundraise around the museum, the university’s historic Final Four basketball run in 2018 or its upcoming 150th anniversary.

Responding to the AAUP, the board made clear in a June letter that it supports Rooney. Her "fiscally conservative approach helps to ensure our university is better positioned to succeed in the face of increasing challenges in higher education, which have caused other institutions to take such drastic actions as significant salary and benefit cuts and the elimination of hundreds of faculty and staff positions," the board said.

The board’s letter noted that the first-year enrollment has been higher than ever for the past three years. It also praised the new Parkinson School of Health Science and Public Health, which opened last year by way of a $20 million grant. Loyola has previously described that grant as “priming the pump” for Rooney’s first capital campaign, possibly timed with the 2020 sesquicentennial.

Asked about the university’s financial health, Magdziarz, speaking for the administration, underscored the positive first-year enrollment gains over the last few years, and said that Loyola is trying to prepare for the challenges facing all institutions that lie ahead. Asked about general faculty concerns regarding Rooney’s leadership, Magdziarz shared an op-ed he wrote for the Phoenix.

“Claims about austerity budget cuts are not supported by the facts,” he wrote in that piece. “Thanks in part to Loyola’s conservative fiscal approach and some admittedly tough choices” -- such those about museum and ESL programs -- “Loyola continues to be competitive in a very competitive market.” That Loyola has had no reductions in force or made any across-the-board budget reductions, among other points, demonstrate this, he added.

Nevertheless, some professors continue to say that Loyola was on similarly solid footing before Rooney’s arrival and that even after three years, she doesn’t appear to understand the institution’s mission. Rooney previously was president of Mount Ida College and Spalding University. She’s worked for the Defense Department and in health-care consulting.

“Faculty understand the academic landscape across the country. We are aware of the need for fiscal restraints,” wrote Pamela Caughie, professor of English and a former president of the AAUP chapter, in her own Phoenix op-ed. “But we find many of the decisions made in the name of fiscal responsibility to be injurious to our academic reputation and identity as a Jesuit Catholic institution. And decisions bearing on teaching and research have not been made with faculty input.”

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