Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Special Faculty Senate Meeting to Consider Penn State Wellness Program: Anouncement of Meeting of Senate Council to Review the Petition Along With Petition Text

At the meeting of the University Faculty Senate on September 10, 2013, the Senate Chair was presented with a Petition to Convene a Special Meeting of the University Faculty Senate for the purpose of having the Senate consider a resolution urging the suspension of the Wellness Program.

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

On September 11, 2013, the Chair of the University Faculty Senate, in accordance with Article V, Section 3 of the Bylaws of the University Faculty Senate, announced the convening of a special Senate Council meeting for Tuesday, September 17, 2013, at 1:30 p.m. in 102 Kern Graduate Building. The sole agenda item for this meeting is to review the resolution regarding the Take Care of Your Health Initiative. Senate Council will review the issue with the five faculty members (Professors Victor Brunsden, Timothy Lawlor, Stephen Ross, James Ruiz, and Matthew Woessner) designated in the petition.

On September 12, 2013, the Senate Faculty Chair delivered the following notice of special Meeting of the University Faculty Senate:

The following message is being sent on behalf of Brent Yarnal, Chair, University Faculty Senate:

In accordance with Article V, Section 3 of the Bylaws of the University Faculty Senate (excerpted below), I am convening a special Senate meeting for Tuesday, September 24, 2013, at 1:30 p.m. in the auditorium (118) of the Dickinson School of Law, Lewis Katz Building. The sole agenda item for this meeting is to consider and vote on a resolution regarding the Take Care of Your Health initiative.

The resolution is attached for your reference. At the request of James Ruiz, a whitepaper written by Dennis Scanlon and Dennis Shea, is also attached.

Parking is available in the Katz Building lot and across the street at the Arboretum. University Park senators are encouraged to carpool or to ride the campus shuttle which stops every 15-minutes in front of the Katz Building. The campus shuttle schedule is available at

The September 24 meeting will be aired live via Mediasite for those unable to attend in person; see for instructions.

I hope your schedule will allow you to attend the special Senate meeting on Tuesday, September 24.

The petition, which was signed by 100 senators, is set out below for your reference. The Senate Council will also have available to it, a whitepaper written by Professors Dennis Scanlon and Dennis Shea. The Resolution follows. Comments should be directed to any of the Resolution sponsors by following the links above.  A summary of the meeting prepared by Jim Ruiz, one of the Special Meeting sponsors, is also included.

Statement of Purpose: On or before Friday, September 27 2013, the Senate shall meet to consider and vote on the below resolution regarding the Take Care of Your Health initiative.

Be it resolved that it is the sense of the University Faculty Senate of the Pennsylvania State University that:
1. The University shall declare a one-year moratorium on implementation of the Take Care of Your Health initiative.
2. The University shall draw on policy experts, both within the University Senate, and throughout the Penn State community in an effort to fairly evaluate the alternatives to controlling healthcare expenses.
3. The University shall engage the faculty and staff in a dialog, soliciting their views on how benefits changes would impact their health, finances and productivity.
4. On or by the last regular University Faculty Senate meeting on Tuesday April 29, 2014 a revised proposal containing any needed reforms to the Take Care of Your Health initiative shall be brought before the full University Senate for a vote of approval.
As per Article 5 Section 3 of the Senate Constitution, this petition is sponsored by the following five senators:

Victor W. Brunsden, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Mathematics
Timothy M. Lawlor, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Physics
Stephen Ross, M.D. Associate Professor of Neurology
James Ruiz, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Criminal Justice
Matthew Woessner, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Political Science and Public Policy

Jim Ruiz Senate Meeting Summary

As you know, the University Faculty Senate met on Tuesday, September 10th, 2013, with the main topic being the ‘Take Care of Your Health’ initiative. Present at the meeting to discuss the wellness plan were Vice Presidents Basso and Gray, as well as a contingent of Highmark executives and one representative from WebMD. The Q&A was originally scheduled for only 30-40 minutes. However, with a near unanimous support of the members, Senate rules were suspended to increase the time for the discussion to 60 minutes.

The first 15 minutes of this time period was consumed by, what could be characterized as, opening statements from Vice Presidents Basso and Gray. Considering that only 30-40 minutes had been set aside to question the guests about the ‘Take Care of Your Health’ initiative, it was especially fortunate that the length of the discussion was extended to accommodate the many questions from the senators.

For those who were unable to attend the September 10th meeting, we encourage you to go to the University Senate website to watch the question and answer period in its entirety (See:, under “Faculty Senate”). While the question and answer period could have gone on indefinitely, there were some important developments to come out of the discussions.

•        A majority of the questions were fielded by the phalanx of Highmark representatives rather than by Vice President Basso or Senior Vice President Gray.
•        The guests repeatedly sidestepped the ethical questions raised by forcing employees to take part in a wellness program, insisting that, ultimately, participation in online surveys and biometric screenings was for the employees own good.
•        The Highmark staff was quick to dismiss employee concerns that their warehouse of highly sensitive medical and personal information could be breached, either through a direct assault by hackers or because of a failure to safeguard the data within the organization. At no point in the discussions, did Highmark executives or Penn State administrators explain why the WebMD database could be accessed with a simple name and password, while our students’ grades are safeguarded with random security codes generated by our SecureID tokens.
•        Vice President Basso repeatedly refused to take direct responsibility for the communication failures in the rollout period, seemingly shifting responsibility to the faculty and staff committees who oversee benefits. “In the context of that time period, we did what we could, and there is no way that I can communicate with 17,000 benefits enrolled individuals. So, what I believed was in the spirit of shared governance, I worked through the various representative bodies, which would have been the Faculty Senate Benefits Committee, the Joint Committee on Insurance and Benefits, and the University Staff Advisory Council, and I shared this regularly with them. And it was my expectation that this was being broadly communicated with the appropriate constituencies that they represent.” To another questioner, she again reiterated that the failures in the rollout were not her fault. “I didn’t say that I made a mistake. I worked within the time frame that I had, to communicate based upon the charge that was given to me.”
•        At one point, a university senator referenced various alternatives to controlling costs outlined in the white paper written by Dr. Scanlon and Dr. Shea. Pointing out that Highmark had worked with both of the authors, Mr. Fiaschetti agreed that the paper offered some constructive suggestions.  Concerned that Mr. Fiaschetti had left the impression that the two authors had a part in the "Take Care of Your Health" initiative, Professor Scanlon asked to be recognized. Addressing the Senate, he then conceded that, while he had once sat on a committee with Highmark executives, it was long before they had crafted a wellness plan. Furthermore, Dr. Scanlon then informed the Senate that he had never met Vice President Basso. Notwithstanding Mr. Fiaschetti’s assertion that he had worked with Dr. Scanlon and Dr. Shea, Penn State’s health administration experts had never been consulted in the design or implementation of the wellness plan.
•        One consistent theme throughout the meeting was that the administration would continually revisit the wellness program. They promised fairness, transparency and, notwithstanding recent events, a firm commitment to shared university governance.

Perhaps the most remarkable moment in the hour-long question and answer session came when Professor Maria Truglio posed a question to the administration. “Are you aware that female employees are required to disclose if they are planning to become pregnant in the next year? Is it appropriate that women who refuse to disclose their reproductive plans are fined $100 a month?” After wild applause, the President of Highmark, Mike Fiaschetti, attempted to reassure Dr. Truglio that she had no reason to worry. Highmark would never disclose the results of private medical information. However, as detailed in the September 15th New York Times article “On Campus, a Faculty Uprising Over Personal Data” the very next questioner, Professor Kimberly Blockett, seemingly scolded Mr. Fiaschetti for his response to Dr. Truglio. “As an English Professor, I think I’m having difficulty with your definition of private. For me, discussing my reproductive plans with an unknown entity at an insurance company does not constitute private. [applause] Certainly I understand the health benefits and necessity of having that conversation as part of a larger context with my physician. That makes sense to me, not with an insurance company.” A video of this extraordinary interchange can be found on YouTube. (See http://youtube/RUrZLK5yA3Y).

Near the end of the meeting under the category of “New Business,” a delegation of senators presented a petition to the chair (enclosed). Invoking Article 5 Section 3, of the University Senate constitution, five cosponsors, along with over one hundred senate signatories called for a special meeting of the University Senate to convene no later than Friday, September 27th, 2013. As per the text of the petition, the purpose of the forthcoming meeting is to consider and vote on a resolution calling on the administration to delay the implementation of the ‘Take Care of Your Health’ initiative.

We recognize that the University Senate has no formal power to stop the administration's plan. Nevertheless, faculty senators have an obligation to make their views known to the administration. This is why several college Senates have already voted on, or are actively debating, resolutions calling for a delay in the ‘Take Care of Your Health’ initiative (resolutions enclosed). Under a system of shared governance, administrators have a responsibility to consult with the faculty Senate before radically restructuring our benefits or imposing massive new surcharges on the employees. From our discussion during the September 10th meeting, it is clear that most senators feel as though the administration has not lived up to its basic obligations. Nevertheless, as the representatives of the university employees, we have an obligation to discuss the benefits plan and make recommendations to the administration on how best to move forward.

If, the Senate ultimately adopts a resolution calling for a delay in the implementation of the ‘Take Care of Your Health’ initiative, and the administration simply ignores its recommendation, it will provide definitive evidence that administrators do not take shared governance seriously. In so doing, whatever the negative consequences of the healthcare plan (e.g. additional bad publicity, harm to recruitment and poor morale) the administration will know that having ignored the Senate, they stand alone.

Although these are difficult times for Penn State, the September 10th University Senate meeting was remarkable in many respects, and it offers the employees reason for hope.  While many of us were shocked and disappointed by the administration’s conduct in this matter, there is a rare feeling of solidarity in the Senate. This is why we were able to easily secure a special meeting tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, September 24th.  Under the constitution, the five cosponsors of the petition needed fifty signatures to call for a special meeting of the Senate. In the end, over one hundred senators signed onto the petition. When, as a result of some confusion over procedure, the Senate chair called for a vote to suspend the rules (seemingly to permit an immediate vote on the petition’s motion) more than three quarters of the Senate voted in the affirmative.  While the administration may force its ‘Take Care of Your Health’ initiative on Penn State employees, the Senate has signaled that it will not rubber stamp a plan crafted in the shadows by Highmark and the Office of Human Resources. Moving forward, we will play an active role in crafting university policy.

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