Task force could reshape long-term plan for employee compensation

Media Credit: Joseph Cordes, the chair of the Faculty Senate's finance committee, said the main question officials have to answer is whether activities financed by debt are worth the cost from not funding other areas. Katie Causey | Hatchet Staff Photographer

A group of faculty and staff members could create a plan to shift funds set aside for salary to those used for benefits over the next year.

The benefits task force, which University President Steven Knapp said Friday will have until December to create a long-term plan for how to balance salary and benefits, could be the one to resolve a year-long debate that has electrified employees.

The group will be responsible for splitting up the pool of money for next year’s benefits packages. It will have until May to share with administrators and GW’s Benefits Advisory Committee how it plans to divide funds for retirement, health insurance and tuition benefits.

Joseph Cordes, an economics professor who will serve on the task force, said the group will have to more clearly communicate to employees how the tradeoffs could affect them.

“There may not be easy answers to this either. It’s not like there’s a magic silver bullet out there that we can discover that will make the problem go away,” he said. “I can’t say for a fact that everybody will agree on what the right choice ought to be.”

Knapp said he decided to create the task force because many employees had complained that there had not been enough discussion about changes to GW’s benefits plans this fall.

“There was a sense that that consultation was a little too narrow in that committee, and so we wanted to have a broader consultation,” he said. “I think what’s important to say about this is it really is very open-ended.”

The task force will also compare GW’s plans to those of other institutions. Administrators have maintained that the University is comparable to other schools for compensation, but some faculty members have said it contributes less to employees’ health benefits packages.

Brandon Brown, a founding member of the recently formed Staff Association, said the task force will include lower-level staff members while the Benefits Advisory Committee does not.

“Difficult decisions need to be made and we understand that, but what we’re hoping for is that the burden of those difficult decisions is not based on those who can least afford it,” he said.

The task force could replace a subcommittee that faculty leaders created earlier this fall to look at how GW’s benefits plans compared to similar universities.

Typically, the Benefits Advisory Committee has worked with Sabrina Ellis, vice president for human resources, to set up GW’s annual benefits plans. But the task force, which Knapp has said won’t replace that committee, could readjust that team’s starting point.

“We’ve had a very clear and consistent approach to what that tradeoff should be. That’s what’s given us the benefits pool within which we’ve made these tradeoff decisions,” Knapp said. “It’s a strong group that we’re assembling. We’re looking forward to those results.”

Turmoil over benefits plans started about a year ago, when a group of faculty and some staff members circulated a petition asking officials to invest more in the University’s health care plans. That group convinced administrators to slow the rising cost of how much employees would pay out of pocket for health care this year, which came at the cost of funding for GW’s tuition remission program.

In September, human resources decided to cut back on the percent of tuition that the University would cover for employees also enrolled in degree programs. But a group of staff members organized months later and quickly gained support through a petition asking that student employees keep the same benefits packages they had expected when they began their academic programs.

Charles Garris, chair of the Faculty Senate executive committee, said the committee had talked to administrators about a resolution passed by the senate last month to support the staff petition, but had no updates to report Friday.

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