Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Wellness Wars Continue--A Task Force is Constituted and the Institutional Role of the Faculty is Reduced in Function

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2013)

I continue to follow the wellness wars at Penn State.  It has provided a great example of the way in which administrative mismanagement of a policy role out, substantive issues that were neither anticipated nor addressed when raised, defensive and then uncoordinated reaction by administrators, and an aggressive Senate response ultimately undermined by Senate leadership, have  turned a debate about the form and effect of changes in benefits policies at Penn State into what may appear to be a more fundamentally important evisceration of effective engaged shared governance.  The wellness wars suggest the increasingly potent limits of shared governance, and the crucial role of faculty leadership complicity in the undermining of an autonomous and respectful institutional role for faculty at state universities.  

In my last post on the wellness wars,  "The Next Round in the Wellness Wars-- A Response From Faculty Representatives," I posted a response by faculty senators to the decision by the faculty chair to share responsibility with the university president for the appointment of members to a so-called joint task force to consider aspects of the wellness program that has caused the university such difficulty and exposed it to media attention, most of which was negative. Such a decision, of course, disregarded the resolution adopted by the Senate, a resolution that, while irrelevant as a constraint on the university president, bound the senate chair, though in this case apparently not strongly enough to cause the chair to conform to its requirements.  That such a rejection of the resolution produced no movement toward accountability or sanction suggests the functional weakness of the Senate and the alignment of president and senate chair suggest no space for autonomy in the actions of thew institutional faculty in a shared governance context.  

This has not been lost on the faculty.  Beyond the "usual suspects", ringleaders of the criticisms of the wellness programs who likely have no credibility with administrators (as likely faculty "troublemakers"), other faculty have understood the repercussions of these choices for the integrity of shared governance.  Some faculties have begun to speak out. This post includes the efforts of the Arts and Architecture faculty.  That they, rather than the Senate leadership, have taken this position is quite telling about the role of the institutional vice of university faculty in contemporary governance.  More telling, however, in this respect, was the refusal of the Faculty leadership to permit the Arts and Architecture faculty from distributing the letter to the university faculty senators.  The excuse was "policy", "tradition" and a fear that communications ot Senators with respect to issues central to their engagement might annoy them as "spam."  But this guardianship of information to which Senators are exposed, controlled through the unelected Executive Director, sometimes in concert with the Senate leadership, essentially eviscerates dynamic engagement, substituting a well managed appearance of governance. 

In the meantime, the university has announced the formation of the task force and has described its charge.  That is also reproduced below.  What is clear here is that, like the roll out of the initial changes to the benefits programs, the university's administration and senior faculty leaders appear to continue to forge their own path. But this time, that path will be taken through a joint task force rather than by a broader engagement with faculty and others affected by these changes. This, then, is the face of the new governance at the university--in pace of a senate whose members are elected by their unit faculty, a series of joint task forces, whose members are appointed with the approval of and ultimately managed by senior administrators, will now become the face of shared governance. This model, of which I will elaborate in future posts, produces efficiency, but also rewards conformity and compliance with the desires of senior administrators.  It will reinforce the vertical relationships that increasingly mark university culture and reduce the functional role of the institutional faculty organization even as it appears to respect its forms.


Dear President Erickson,

As the elected representatives of the faculty of the College of Arts and Architecture, we are writing in support of the University Faculty Senate resolution passed 24 September 2013 regarding the Take Care of Your Health initiative. We believe this was a reasonable and modest attempt to promote the ideals of shared governance in a matter of obvious and significant importance to faculty and staff in addition to those of the administration.

We also share the serious concerns of our faculty colleagues (Michael Bérubé, Ann Clements, Madhuri Desai, Scott Metzger, Alexandra Staub, Keith Shapiro, Maria Truglio, and Matthew Woessner) noted in their letter of 24 October 2013 over your decision not to include members to Healthcare Task Force elected by the faculty, as the Faculty Senate advised in the resolution, in favor of an all-appointed task force. We share Professor Bérubé’s concerns in his letter of 29 October 2013 on the effect that your decision is likely to have on the belief in and support of shared governance in the University.
We do not intend this to be a confrontational discussion; rather, we see this as an opportunity for the current (and future) University administration to forge a clearer understanding of and mutual respect for its faculty and staff. We ask that you heed the comments made in the letter, and the many other comments from University faculty on this matter—otherwise the administration’s actions will certainly be viewed as disrespectful and dismissive by those sincerely concerned with the current state of governance at Penn State.

College of Arts & Architecture


Health Care Task Force formed
November 18, 2013

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The University Faculty Senate passed a resolution in September that, among other things, called for the formation of a task force to "revise the administration’s ‘Take Care of Your Health’ initiative." After doing careful research to identify individuals that could best inform the group's work, President Rod Erickson and Brent Yarnal, chair of the Faculty Senate, formed the task force.

The task force, which received its official charge today (Nov. 18) consists of 13 people: six faculty, five administrators and two staff members. "Everyone on the committee has deep expertise in issues that are directly relevant to the committee's charge," Yarnal said. "They're all smart, thoughtful people that have shown time and again that they're really big contributors. I feel very positive about the task force and what it's going to accomplish."

Keith Crocker, William Elliott chaired professor of insurance and risk management in the Smeal College of Business, is the committee chair. Crocker is a former chair of the Joint Committee on Insurance and Benefits. One of his research interests has been the role of job attachment in the design of optimal employer-sponsored health insurance policies.

"The Task Force will examine the health-care alternatives facing the Penn State community and, in the process, consider both the costs to employees as well as the benefits to the University," said Crocker. "We will benchmark current practice at Penn State against our academic peers, examine the voluminous literatures on the efficacy of the potential programs, and consider the trends more broadly in the changing health-care landscape. Our goal is to provide a dispassionate analysis of the potential paths forward."

The committee has been charged to:

-- Benchmark health-care benefits programs, including those with wellness components, at peer public and private universities and major corporations, and identify key trends in future directions of healthcare benefits programs and planning.

-- Conduct a data- and science-based assessment of potential ways to reduce the rate of increase in Penn State’s health-care costs; benchmark peer university cost structures to assess the relative contributions of employer and employee, earnings-based contributions; the use and/or promotion of internal or external facilities and services; and possible ways to increase choice in healthcare coverage and price among covered employees and their dependents.

-- Explore the advantages and disadvantages of various kinds of programs, including employee wellness programs that could promote improved health quality of Penn State employees and their dependents.

-- Investigate ways to improve communication, understanding, consultation, transparency, and employee participation for current and future health-care programming and health-care benefits.

In addition, Yarnal said he would hope to see the group develop broad principles that the University can use in any future health-care benefits rollout.

The task force will present its findings to the Faculty Senate and Administration at the Senate’s April 29, 2014, meeting.

In addition to Crocker, the members of the committee are:

Martha Aynardi, director of Academic Support and Projects and senior lecturer at Penn State Berks. Aynardi is responsible for oversight of Career Services, the Learning Center, and Academic Advising. She is a biologist and current chair of the Joint Committee on Insurance and Benefits and former Chair of the Senate Committee on Faculty Benefits.

Jo Anne Carrick, coordinator of the Nursing Program and assistant professor of nursing at Penn State Erie. Carrick is responsible for coordination and management of the associate degree in nursing. She is a registered nurse and current vice chair of the Senate Committee on Faculty Benefits.

Joe Doncsecz, associate vice president for Finance and corporate controller. He is responsible for oversight of the University’s system of internal controls, facilitation of all external financial and accounting control audits, and leadership of the University’s cash, debt and risk management functions.

John Harwood, associate vice provost for Information Technology, and associate professor of information sciences and technology and English. His administrative focus is on strategic planning and the assessment of information technology at Penn State.
Susan Johnson, manager of planning and operations in the College of the Liberal Arts. She has responsibility for strategic planning and a broad range of college operations, and a background in financial services and health-care sectors.

Robin Oswald, director of the Employee Benefits Division in the Office of Human Resources. Her responsibilities include development, recommendation and implementation of University-wide strategic benefit initiatives for faculty and staff including employer-funded and voluntary benefits, retirement, workers' compensation, absence management, health initiatives, educational benefits, and occupational medicine.

Dennis Scanlon, professor of health policy and administration in the College of Health and Human Development. His research interests include consumer information and health care markets, health insurance and HMO plan performance, measurement of quality.

Rachel E. Smith, University budget officer. Her responsibilities include assisting the president and the Budget Task Force in developing, implementing, monitoring and controlling the University’s annual operating budget; support for strategic planning efforts; and presentation of institutional data for various analyses and reports.

S. Shyam Sundar, distinguished professor of communications and communications arts and sciences. He is co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory and specializes in advertising, public relations, and media studies. One of his many interests is health communication.

Jeremy Warner, security and facility manager at the Palmer Museum of Art. He is chair of the University’s Staff Advisory Council, which acts in an advisory capacity to the administration; explores issues, policies, and practices that impact staff; suggests revisions to policies and new initiatives, and advocates for staff welfare and development.

Carol Weisman, distinguished professor of public health sciences and obstetrics and gynecology at the College of Medicine, with a joint appointment in the Department of Health Policy and Administration in the College of Health and Human Development. She also is associate dean for faculty affairs in the College of Medicine. She is a sociologist and health services researcher.

Robin Wittenstein, director and chief operating officer of the Penn State Hershey Health System. She oversees Penn State Hershey’s network of clinical and academic affiliate hospitals across central Pennsylvania as well as the Health System’s interests in the Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute, Penn State Hershey Rehabilitation Hospital, Hershey Outpatient Surgical Center, Hershey Endoscopy Center, and other collaborative, health-related ventures.

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