Penn State Faculty Form AAUP Chapter
August 21, 2013

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.

In other Penn State news, Harvard Business Review dedicated a blog post to the wellness initiative Tuesday called “The Danger of Wellness Programs: Don’t Become the Next Penn State.”

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.”

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