By Stephan Kozub
Amidst criticism from members of the Faculty Senate over a lack of transparency, the Board of Trustees has launched an effort to release information regarding the faculty salary and benefits negotiations which took place during the 2016-17 academic year. A July 11 statement regarding the efforts from Robert Daleo, Chair of the Board of Trustees, however, has done little to ease tensions between members of the Faculty Senate and the university administration.
“With the benefit of hindsight, we realize now that providing clear, detailed and timely information to the Fordham community at large would have made a complex process go more smoothly and lessened the anxiety of those who were not part of the negotiation process, yet going to be affected by the outcome,” Robert Daleo, chair of the Board of Trustees, said in an email statement to The Observer.
In the statement, the Board of Trustees demonstrates its continued support for University President Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., and stands by the faculty salary and benefits deal reached on May 12, following the faculty’s April 19 vote of no confidence in McShane’s leadership. Faculty Senate members such as Vice President Andrew H. Clark, Ph.D., however, continue to criticize the deal and the way in which the Board of Trustees manages the university’s finances, arguing that Fordham is too tuition dependent and is not taking the proper steps to meet the goals for increasing the endowment that it set for itself.
“I don’t think it’s a success,” he said. “It’s a crisis. And every year it creates panic situations that there’s not enough money to run the institution.”
Daleo refutes these claims, standing by the deal and citing the endowment’s return on investment. He does state, however, that the deal will affect other areas of the university’s finances.
“Other areas of the budget are unavoidably affected, because no separate pool of funds exists that we could draw from to pay for salary, health insurance, and other benefits,” Daleo said in an email statement to The Observer. “Some administrative departments have already been asked to trim their budgets in the current fiscal year.”
While Daleo’s new statement provides further information on the deal, both his July 11 statement and Clark’s response largely echo the arguments they respectively presented for and against the deal during the Spring 2017 semester before it had been agreed upon by the Faculty Senate. On April 24, Daleo issued a statement to the Fordham community, updating its members on the status of the salary and benefits negotiations. Clark and the Faculty Senate responded with a lengthy counter-statement later the same day, refuting many of Daleo’s arguments.
A new commitment to transparency
In his July 11 email to the Fordham Community, Daleo states that the Board will share “detailed information on the health insurance plans on the web, through email and printed materials, and during in-person information meetings.”
The decision to release this information was motivated by McShane, according to an email statement Daleo sent to The Observer.
McShane has “committed to better ways of communicating with the University community, including resuming Budget Forums in the coming year,” and is “actively exploring ways in which to most effectively accomplish that,” Daleo said in the statement. Among the possibilities under consideration are “live or virtual town halls,” “dialogue via social media channels,” and “open office afternoons.”
These efforts would be “not just for [McShane], but for other members of the administration,” he said. “Father McShane believes it is as important to listen as it is to inform.”
During the past academic year, the Faculty Senate and Clark repeatedly criticized the Board for a lack of transparency, with Clark still arguing that there is a “non-transparent, top down style of authority that is eroding shared governance with respect to faculty and students.” He cited the adjunct faculty’s push to unionize and the university’s handling of Students for Justice in Palestine as other examples of the phenomenon.
In describing the university’s efforts to increase transparency, Daleo gives the example that faculty and staff have already begun receiving information via email and on the web regarding health insurance plans they will be able to choose when open enrollment opens in October. The new plans will take effect in January 2018. Among the details on the website are an FAQ and Medical Plan Changes and Options, with a price calculator coming “in the near future,” according to Daleo. He also states that the Benefits team will be available to answer any questions.
The details released this summer
In the July 11 statement, Daleo provides information on both the agreed upon salary increase and changes to the health insurance plans.
The salary increase will be for 2.7 percent each year for the next three years, according to Daleo’s statement. Changes to the health insurance plan offerings have also been made, which include a new Enhanced Standard Plan, the Health Savings Account (HSA) Plan and the Bronze Plan for “non-benefits eligible employees.” In the statement, Daleo calls the salary increases “generous” and done because “the Board wished to acknowledge the important work done by the members of the staff and in the daily life of the University.”
Clark, however, refutes the generosity of the raises. Because of anticipated inflation—which economics believe will increase by about 2 percent this year—the increase in real salary comes out to only 0.7 percent, according to Clark. But this 0.7 percent increase in real salary will only go to 50 percent or less of the faculty since only those with merit receive the full salary increase. Merit is awarded to approximately 50 percent each year, according to Clark. Merit is equal to about 0.6 percent of that 0.7 percent increase above the projected inflation.
With that number factored in, the real salary increase comes out only to about 0.1 percent for approximately 50 percent of the faculty, he continued. He also states that out-of-pocket expenses will go up significantly under the new health insurances plan if anyone actually uses the insurance.
Daleo noted an increase in expenses in his April 24 statement, saying that the plan would “still offer our staff and faculty excellent coverage, but would increase some co-pays and deductibles.” He added, however, that “Under the plan, faculty and staff would also see lower monthly premiums deducted from their pay.”
The university has stood by the deal in the months following the agreement. “As it is, Fordham’s new health insurance plan, which will begin Jan. 1, 2018, still provides excellent benefits, and helps slow the increase of health insurance costs to the university,” Bob Howe, assistant vice president for communications and special advisor to the president, told the National Catholic Reporter. In the April 24 statement, Daleo noted that “Faculty and staff have received a salary increase every year under Father McShane’s tenure, at his insistence.”
In his new statement, Daleo continues that “Without intervention, it was estimated that Fordham’s health insurance costs would rise by 60 percent in the next three years-an unsustainable figure for both the University and its faculty and staff,” a claim the Board has repeatedly presented during the past academic year and which Clark has refuted. Daleo adds that “Similarly, the plan will help us begin to moderate tuition increases.” In his April 24 statement, Daleo noted “the Board of Trustees has already directed Father McShane to contain tuition increases.” Between 2001 and 2016, tuition and fees went up from $22,585 to $48,858, or by 59.53 percent adjusted for inflation.
How will the deal affect the university’s finances?
Following the deal, Daleo said that adjustments will have to be made in other areas of the university’s finances, but that no adjustments will be made until the university begins to prepare for the next budget. The coming year’s budget was adopted in June.
“Adopting a budget is a holistic process, so each allocation impacts all other allocations,” he said in an email statement to The Observer. “If you can’t change the size of the pie, the size of the other portions has to be adjusted. Of course, a pie could get bigger or smaller in any given year—fundraising, the economy, the stock market can all have an impact. That’s a big reason why negotiating a multi-year agreement is such a complex process—we are locking in the size of the biggest piece—nearly two-thirds—of the pie for three years, even though we can’t predict the future.”
He added that the Board is “obligated to err on the side of fiscal restraint” due to its members’ roles “as fiduciaries and stewards of Fordham’s financial health,” but noted that the members “understand why other members of the Fordham community may bring different viewpoints to the table.”
“Without knowing the size of pie we’ll have to work with, it’s not possible to say how the portion not committed to salaries and benefits will be allocated,” he said.
Daleo continues in his statement that the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) survey “shows Fordham faculty compensation is higher than that of our five closest peer institutions and 10 local institutions. This is reflective of the fact that over the past 10 years, salaries have increased at an average annual rate of 3.2 percent, resulting in real purchasing power gains, versus a 1.8 percent annual inflation rate over the same period.”
Daleo, however, does not mention what the peer and local institutions are, but they may include the university’s Fordham lists as its peers in its 2016 Middle States self-study: Boston University, George Washington University, Syracuse University, Villanova University, Northeastern University, and Loyola University Chicago.
“If you’re going to compare us, let us know whom you are comparing us to,” Clark said, adding that the university’s comparisons do not take into account the cost of living, a major cost in New York City, or housing stipends that faculty may receive at other universities. A majority of faculty are spending 50 percent or more of their salaries on housing, according to Clark.
Repairing Relations and New Goals
While tensions may still be present between the Board of Trustees and the Faculty Senate, both parties are looking at other goals and tasks to accomplish in the coming year.
Daleo said that the Board’s major agenda items in the new academic year are “continuing to increase the size of the pie by developing alternate revenue streams and continuing the fundraising momentum” from the 2017 fiscal year, “repairing relations among the faculty and administration,” and “fostering dialogue within the Fordham community at large.”
“With the negotiations behind us, our community can focus on finding common ground, supporting one another, and building a solid framework to foster open, reciprocal communication,” Daleo said in an email statement to The Observer.
The Faculty Senate plans to continue tackling topics such as diversity, which it worked on prior to the protracted salary and benefits negotiations but put on hold due to the contentious nature of the process, according to Clark.
Clark, however, believes that improvements will only happen with “significant structural changes, such as the Provost being given more authority than the other Vice Presidents; more transparency in the budgeting process; and less tuition dependency.
“I am fighting for it because I think Fordham has always been a place where the parts are greater than the whole, and for me that’s a huge opportunity, but it’s also a huge loss if it’s lost,” Clark said. “There is not enough cohesiveness, and until those structural issues are addressed and there’s a greater sense of a shared purpose and a greater sense of a shared mission and respect for students and workers at every level, unless that happens, forming such a greater whole will be difficult to realize.”