MSP ACTION NEWS

March 1999


From the President's Desk

The votes on MSP's bargaining proposal for Periodic Multi-Year Review were officially counted on Thursday morning, March 4. By a vote of 523 to 91, the faculty supported the proposal by an impressive margin.

We received a range of comments with ballots, many voicing their general opinion and a few with specific and detailed suggestions. Those comments are now being carefully read by members of the bargaining team and will no doubt inform MSP discussions with the administration as bargaining progresses. A number of issues remain to be resolved: among them, the amount of development money to be set aside for PMYR-generated requests for faculty support as well as final wording of the PMYR document.

Thanks to all who attended the general assembly, engaged in the vigorous campus-wide debate, and took the time to express their views by voting in this important election.

In this issue of the newsletter, you will find a letter from our Health and Welfare Trust representative David Buchanan explaining the recent change in dental benefits for our members. As for all state workers, MSP is prevented by law from directly bargaining over health benefits. We do, however, bargain over the amount of money that the administration puts in the Health and Welfare Trust Fund, which is administered by a Board made up of union and administration representatives from across the state. That fund was seriously depleted during the first years it was in place. The Trustees responsible for keeping the fund viable were forced to change insurers to accommodate for the rising cost of all the bids.

We are unhappy that local dentists in Amherst and elsewhere have opted not to participate in the new plan. If your dentist is not a participant, Delta Dental covers insured dental work in the amount that in-plan dentists have negotiated. We recognize that for most of our members, this means that what was once a dental benefit is now simply a dental discount. MSP/MTA will continue to lobby local dentists to participate.

Also in this issue, you will find the MSP's latest proposal regarding student evaluations. The proposal was based on the results of the faculty survey on student evaluation completed by 497 faculty members in December. As you will see, the proposal offers some alternatives, all of which would be voluntary for faculty members. Unfortunately, student leaders have voiced no interest in a plan that is not mandatory for all faculty members

Finally, a word about upcoming MSP elections. The nominations committee is seeking volunteers to serve on the MSP Executive Board and in several leadership positions for two-year terms beginning on July 1, 1999. As you know, MSP depends for its very existence on faculty members willing to serve. Should you be interested, please contact the MSP office or David Lenson at lenson@complit.umass.edu. Nominations will be presented at a general assembly meeting scheduled for Thursday, April 15 from 4-6pm in Campus Center room 917 with a chance at that time for nominations from the floor. Voting by secret ballot will take place the following Thursday, April 22 from 9-5 in Hampshire House 122.

Jenny Spencer
MSP President


CHANGE OF DENTAL PLAN

As a trustee on the Board of Higher Education's Health & Welfare Trust, I have received many inquiries, concerns, and complaints about the recent change of dental plans from HMO Blue to Delta Dental. Let me try to describe the decision-making process from my perspective.

First, the financial pressures, increasing restrictions, and shrinking benefits felt here are part and parcel of national trends in health care. After health care costs soared at 2-3 times the rate of inflation during the '80s, business leaders decided that they could not and would not tolerate paying insurance companies and health care providers whatever they demanded. Starting in the early '90s, they refused to pay for increases in health care benefits that outpaced inflation. Enter the era of "managed care." With less money, the insurance companies began scrutinizing, restricting, and refusing to pay health claims and competitively bidding for services, where HMO plans offered cheaper services than private physicians. So, we all joined HMOs. As financial pressures continued to squeeze resources, HMO health care providers began laying off staff and limiting the services they could afford to provide. The financing of medical care in this country is in crisis, but Congress appears to be distracted with other matters. These trends are readily evident in the dental services now being provided to our members, as I will try to explain in a moment.

Second, as a trustee, my overriding responsibility is a fiduciary obligation to protect the viability of the health and welfare trust fund. I do not represent nor advocate for labor's interests. Although there are equal numbers of management and labor representatives on the trust fund board, we are all duty-bound to preserve the financial soundness and stability of the resources entrusted to our oversight. The union, MSP, negotiates the amount of money that is contributed to the membership's fringe benefits, including health and welfare, and then, the trustees try to get the best services for the amount of money that is made available to us, again, where our principal obligation is to make sure the trust fund does not go broke.

So, here is what happened. Back in '80s, UMass used to be covered by Delta Dental. As that contract approached expiration, the contract for services was put out to bid and HMO Blue offered a more competitive bid that was accepted by the trustees. This decision was made before my time, but when I began serving as a trustee this fall, I got a number of calls from people expressing their desire to go back to Delta Dental because Delta had offered more benefits, such as cross-claims between spouses (which they probably did, but that was back in the '80s when health care costs were allowed to soar freely). In 1998, the three-year contract with HMO Blue was due to expire. HMO Blue informed the trustees that they had lost money on the contract and could not to provide services without 50% increase in payments. The trustees once again put the contract out to bid and Delta Dental submitted the only bid that did not call for minimum 25% increase in costs. Delta submitted a bid that was the same costs as the old HMO Blue contract, a 0% increase. During this process, the trustees, through their agents, asked bidders to estimate the costs of including additional fringe benefits, such as coverage of domestic partners, and they told us what they estimated it would cost to provide these additional services.

Next, in case people are not aware, the Board of Higher Education Health and Welfare Trust Fund provides benefits to faculty and staff from all universities and state colleges across the Commonwealth. MSP has but one vote. So, while those of us from the Amherst campus (three representatives in total) voiced loud concerns about the prospects of switching over to Delta due to the smaller number of dentists that are enlisted with Delta or accept patients covered by Delta out here in the West, representatives from other parts of the state made precisely the opposite argument, i.e. in their area there are more dentists covered by Delta than by HMO Blue. In the end, the issue of coverage seemed moot from a statewide perspective and financial considerations drove the decision to switch to Delta. Like all health care plans these days, Delta is providing fewer services and fewer private dentists are willing to admit patients covered by Delta because of lower reimbursements rates. Welcome to the era of managed care.

Let me finish with three thoughts. First, I think everyone should be deeply concerned, if not outraged, about the state of funding and providing health care services in this country. There are burning problems and Congress fiddles. Second, if you want higher benefits, then you should express your desire to your union who is responsible for negotiating the amount of money that goes towards fringe benefits in our contracts. The problem, of course, is that this increase may come at the expense of other benefits such as pay raises. Private business has fairly emphatically said that they cannot afford and will not pay for any more large increases in their overhead. Ultimately, we will have to negotiate our desire for more health care benefits with the taxpayers of Massachusetts. Finally, on a more positive note, Delta is actively trying to enroll more dentists in their plan. If your dentists currently does not accept Delta, you may ask him or her personally to consider accepting it, or you may pass on their name to Delta who will have one of their representatives contact them.

I know many people on the Amherst campus are unhappy with the change of plans. I am not sure who to yell at. I hope I have given you a better idea about what I can and cannot do for you as a trustee.

David Buchanan
Trustee, Board of Higher Education's Health & Welfare Trust


FINAL MSP PROPOSAL FOR TASK FORCE ON STUDENT EVALUATIONS

MSP recognizes that students should have useful information on which to base course selection. The results of the faculty survey on the release of student evaluation information to students indicated that faculty would support a voluntary, experimental program along the lines suggested below.

MSP proposes that the task force develop an informational WEBSITE that helps students select courses based on a range of information that faculty have indicated they would like to share with pre-registering students. This information could include, but would not be limited to, past and current course syllabi, grading and attendance policies, frequency and form of evaluation, expected student workload, probable readings, etc. Such a WEBSITE would facilitate the distribution of information usually (but not always) available at the department level and would offer students an opportunity for more in-depth assessment of courses than is currently available to them in this form. Such a system could be up and running very quickly, certainly within the next few months. Furthermore, the results of our survey indicate that a large majority of faculty would be willing to participate in such a program.

We understand that the task force may recommend the release of a limited number of questions (either from currently used evaluation forms or newly devised informational questions or some combination of the two) in a pilot program. MSP would prefer that these questions appear on a separate sheet, clearly identified as a voluntary evaluation, the results of which would be accessible to students only. Whatever design is recommended, however, the voluntary nature of faculty participation must be clearly flagged and protected. The MSP would urge the task force not to limit the kind or amount of material that faculty might volunteer to release to students.

The MSP assumes that any successful pilot program could inform future contract negotiations with the administration. For that reason, we would like to insure from the beginning that certain protections of faculty are included in any pilot programs. These would include the administration accepting all liability for defamation claims; an agreement that administration will not use, or allow the data to be used, for any purpose other than student selection of courses; that the administration would incur all clerical and financial burdens attached to a design proposal; that MSP have access to the site in order to monitor its use; that any proposal be revisited at the end of a specified time period for review (renewal/discontinuation); and that faculty will not be penalized in any form for their decision to participate, or not participate in this voluntary program.

The MSP considers academic departments to be the primary locus of information about, and evaluation of, courses. For this reason, MSP would strongly prefer the task force to consider a decentralized, departmentally based experimental program that would recognize the evaluative tools that departments have already developed and that would allow for alternative methods (e.g., advisors, paper files, Departmental websites, etc.) for providing course information to students.


MILEAGE REIMBURSEMENT RATE REDUCED

Roy S. Milbury of the President's Office in Boston has announced that "the University is reducing the mileage reimbursement rate to conform to Federal guidelines. As of April 1, 1999 the reimbursement rate for mileage when on University business will be reduced from 32.5 cents per mile to 31 cents per mile.

MESSAGE FROM THE EMPLOYEE ASSISTANCE PROGRAM

A PhD doesn't guarantee faculty exemption from personal problems. And it doesn't necessarily make it easier to resolve them. No matter what the concern -- stress, family relationships, finances, alcohol/drugs, divorce, death or illness of a loved one, or depression -- talking to a professional can help.

The Employee Assistance Program is a resource for you. Our role is to assist you with any problem that affects your life and work. EAP counselors will discuss your concerns, help clarify issues, develop strategies and make referrals. EAP services are available to all university faculty and staff. Consultations are strictly confidential and free. The EAP is located in the University Health Center. Call 545-0350 for more information.

MEETING WITH HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER

Majority Leader William P. Nagle of Northampton hosted a lunch at the State House for higher ed union leaders and alumni who serve in the state legislature. Jenny Spencer, Ellen Pader and Bob Paynter attended from our campus. The low-key political agenda was aimed at establishing one on one dialogue (personal relations) between the union and legislators. It was a real treat to talk with graduates from the late 50s through the 80s who spoke with such enthusiasm about their University experience. The seriousness of the legislature's concern for the University was evidenced by the attendance at the lunch of leaders on education issues, including Representative Ellen Story, Senator Stanley Rosenberg, and House Chair of Education Hal Lane. Local area legislators also turned out, including Representatives Steve Kulik and Nancy Flavin. Speaker of the House Thomas Finneran opened the session and introduced President Spencer to the more than 20 legislators in attendance. The MSP Legislative Committee is grateful to Representative Nagle for using his good offices to foster a climate of exchange and understanding between the MSP and the Legislature on issues of benefit to the University and the Commonwealth.

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