The University is slated to increase its spending on employee health care benefits by 5 percent next year, faculty involved with benefits negotiations said.
If approved by the Board of Trustees this week, the change will increase the amount the University spends on health care benefits to roughly $43 million – a 2 percent bump after years of an annual 3 percent increase, faculty said.
Members of the Faculty Senate and the Faculty Association – a professor-run organization that advocates for change to University policy – said the proposed increase shows that University President Thomas LeBlanc’s administration wants to improve employee morale and listen to employees’ concerns about benefits that have long gone unheard by top officials.
The increase comes after years of faculty lobbying the administration to increase benefits spending so faculty and employees could pay a smaller proportion of health care costs. The Faculty Senate passed a resolution last year asking for an increase in overall compensation in salary and benefits, which include coverage for expenses like health care and retirement plans.
Ann McCorvey, the deputy executive vice president and treasurer, said top officials work to ensure benefits are as comprehensive as possible within the confines of the budget by conducting an annual review of employee plans and costs with faculty and the Benefits Advisory Committee, a group of faculty and staff that provides feedback on benefits policy.
“The University aims to offer the most robust benefits plans for the amount of money allocated to the fringe benefits pool,” she said.
Tyler Anbinder, a history professor and member of both the Faculty Senate and Faculty Association, said after years of sending letters to the administration about the desire for increased benefits packages, he is encouraged by new leadership responding to faculty needs.
Two Faculty Senate resolutions were passed in 2014 and 2015 calling on the University to cover more benefits after tuition benefits were rolled back by 6 percent in 2014. The Benefits Advisory Committee said in 2016 that the University’s consolidation of health care choices moved too quickly for faculty members to give their input.
Anbinder said the benefits increase could be attributed to a change in University leadership, with the start of LeBlanc’s tenure last year. LeBlanc has focused this year on improving the institutional culture at GW and has launched new staff-focused initiatives, including a new employee orientation.
He said the increase makes employees feel that LeBlanc and Provost Forrest Maltzman are finally listening to staff concerns that have long been unaddressed.
“It is possible that they understand how important this is to employee morale and they want to change for the better employee morale, so they made this a priority,” Anbinder said.
Anbinder, who is a member of the Benefits Advisory Committee, said that at a committee meeting in March, the University Human Resources and Benefits Administration presented a rough draft of benefits spending for 2019 that included the 5 percent increase. The increase still has to be approved by the Board of Trustees at its May meeting Friday, but Anbinder said he expects the change to come to fruition because of strong faculty support for the measure.
Ivy Ken, the president of the Faculty Association and an associate professor of sociology, said faculty had faced “consistent pushback” about increasing benefits from former University President Steven Knapp’s administration.
Ken said the Faculty Association presented data to former Provost Steven Lerman in 2014, which showed GW’s benefits lagged behind its peers. GW’s benefits spending was in the bottom rankings compared to peer institutions, according to data from the American Association of University Professors.
“The administration became aware at that meeting that there is an independent and informed faculty advocacy organization that carefully scrutinizes the administration’s initiatives and stands ready to contest any flaws in its official justifications for its decisions and policies,” Ken said in an email.
Ken added she hopes the measure will lead to more increases down the road, possibly even to a 6 percent boost to stay competitive with peer universities. Anbinder noted in a 2017 Faculty Senate meeting that the University would have to spend $1 million on benefits every year for five years to reach the middle of its peer school group, citing data from the AAUP.
Ken said that LeBlanc’s pledge to improve the student experience – which he has touted since his first day at the University – cannot come to fruition unless faculty’s working conditions are also improved because of professors’ integral role in shaping student outcomes.
“We hope to enlist even more faculty members to help build on successes like this as we move forward,” she said in an email.
Meredith Roaten contributed reporting.