Thursday, September 19, 2013

And the Sponsors of the Call for the Special Senate Meeting Respond Back--A Continuing Wellness and Shared Governance Dialogue

I have recently posted the University Administration's first public response to the criticisms of the Wellness Program that culminated in the Wellness Program interactive dialogue at the September 10, 2013 University Faculty Senate Meeting (e.g.,Penn State Responds: A Message From the University President). To some that response appeared to be a welcome first step, but only that.  Below I have posted the reply to this Administration initiative from two of the sponsors of the Senate Special Meeting (e.g., Special Faculty Senate Meeting to Consider Penn State Wellness Program: Anouncement of Meeting of Senate Council to Review the Petition Along With Petition Text).

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)
I hope that those with views will make their opinions known either at the Special Senate meeting or otherwise to the parties.  As the letter below suggests, there are two intertwined issues that require resolution.  The first involves the substance of the Wellness programs itself, one that requires a greater cultivation of sensitivity to the human rights issues involved in the employment relationship especially when it touches on the most personal issues of human dignity. The second involves the continued cultivation of cultures of shared governance.  This, in turn, implicates the need to avoid formalism--the appearance of shared governance through the establishment of bodies that appear to include stakeholders--but which have no functional value, either because the selection of stakeholders have been marred by corruption and cronyism or because decisions will have been taken elsewhere and presented ready made for the appearance of consultation and approval.  It remains to be seen whether, together, the institutional leadership of the Senate and the university are up to either task.

September 18, 2013

Dear Colleagues,

As many of you know, in light of the concerns raised at our last Senate meeting, the administration has announced that they will suspend the surcharges for those who elect not to take part in the WebMD survey, or the biometric screenings, pending a thorough review of the ‘Take Care of your Health Initiative.’ In an effort to address employee concerns about cost, security and privacy, the administration will work with the University Senate to form a joint taskforce to consider Penn State’s options. Furthermore, in the Senate Council meeting yesterday, the administration informed us that, consistent with the suggestion offered in our petition, the administration would present the Senate with a revised wellness plan for its consideration, on or before, its last regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday April 29, 2014.

We believe that this is a very positive development, not only because it eliminates the potentially coercive component of Penn State’s wellness program, but because it signals a renewed commitment to the principles of shared governance. Drawing on the collective wisdom of employees, stakeholders and industry experts, we are hopeful that the taskforce can develop a wellness plan that satisfies the concerns of the University Senate.

As per the petition under Article 5, Section 3 of the senate constitution, the University Senate is scheduled to hold a special meeting Tuesday, September 24, 2013, to consider a resolution calling for a delay in the “Take Care of Your Health Plan.” While the administration decision to suspend the wellness surcharge will influence our deliberations on the resolution, the Senate will have an opportunity to amend the language of the statement to reflect recent changes to the Penn State wellness plan.

Provost Jones and Senior Vice President Gray have kindly agreed to brief the Senate on the revised wellness proposal. At the meeting, Senators will have the opportunity to raise questions about the process moving forward, including important details about the development of a new wellness plan. As of now, we are awaiting important clarifications on key issues related to today’s announcement. We presume we will take up those questions at Tuesday’s special Senate meeting. These questions might include:

• Many employees submitted to biometric screenings and health risk assessments (i.e. the WebMD survey) in order to avoid a $100 a month surcharge. Will the university offer modest compensation for those who elected to enroll in the screenings out of recognition for their efforts to embrace the wellness plan?
• Will employees who already completed a wellness profile have an opportunity to have their medical information expunged from WebMD? Additionally, can they have their personal medical records removed from the WebMD servers?
• What is the composition of the healthcare taskforce? Will it include representatives from all of the relevant stakeholders (i.e. administrators, faculty and staff) including health and policy experts from within Penn State?
• Who will make appointments to the taskforce? Will it be staffed solely by President Erickson’s office, or will the Senate have substantial input in the composition of the taskforce?
• Will the taskforce meetings and deliberations’ be opened to the public? What role will the Senate committees play in crafting recommendations for the future?
• Will the administration submit the taskforce’s recommendations to the full Senate in time for its members to make substantive recommendations? If so, what is the timetable for implementing a revised wellness plan?

Moving forward, we hope the Senate will take an active role in shaping both the composition and mission of the healthcare taskforce. Penn State University has an extraordinary pool of talent in tackling issues relating to healthcare, law and ethics. In particular, the Senate was extremely impressed with the detailed and thoughtful whitepaper written by Professors Dennis Scanlon and Dennis Shea. We hope that they will be invited to play an active role in the healthcare taskforce.

Again, this is a very positive development. There is broad agreement that Penn State must take steps to control its rising medical costs. Working together, we have a real opportunity to design a wellness program that serves the interests of the entire Penn State community, and will provide a model for university’s everywhere.


Jim Ruiz, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Criminal Justice

Matthew Woessner, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Political Science

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