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York College faculty remains dissatisfied with budget, work toward solution

York College campus

York College faculty representatives have been in discussion with the administration this summer to reach a compromise on $1.4 million in proposed benefit cuts included in a budget passed in May.

The benefit cuts include a monthly spousal health insurance surcharge of $100 per month (if the spouse can be ensured by his or her employer), a change in prescription drug coverage and a phase out of the college's voluntary separation plan.

The separation plan is an incentive for faculty to retire early — with half a year or whole year of severance based on age.

Those who retire under the phase-out period will have the opportunity to teach as adjunct instructors at 1.5 times the regular adjunct salary for three years following retirement, according to a June 29 letter from the college president. Adjunct instructors are hired to teach but are not full members of a college faculty.

That retirement plan will begin to phase out Sept. 1. 

According to a May 18 memo from college President Pamela Gunter-Smith, the budget included no reduction to faculty and staff raises or the college's retirement match. 

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Reaction: In written remarks dated the day the budget passed, Academic Senate President Jim Kearns wrote that though faculty is not satisfied with the cuts, another concern is a lack of transparency.

In a June 25 letter to the Provost, incoming Faculty Benefits Committee chair Ann Norwich wrote that the administration had not consulted with the committee regarding its rationale for eliminating the retirement incentive or communicated the financial analysis for cost savings.

It may even increase costs, she wrote, because senior faculty will not have an incentive to retire.

Norwich said eliminating the retirement incentive in the summer months, when many faculty are not on campus and unable to give input, does not support open communication.

However, she said, the faculty recognizes the administration made an effort to work with them this summer.

“We truly appreciate that the administration has reached out to the faculty to establish open communication and shared governance," Norwich added.

In the letter, she recommended committees and the administration work together on an evaluation of total compensation before eliminating the phase-out retirement plan. 

Good faith: In a June 22 letter to faculty, Kearns reported that senate representatives had met with Gunter-Smith over the previous five weeks to address concerns and work toward better transparency.

As a result, both parties agreed to form an ad hoc committee with members of the senate budget and benefit committees, Provost Laura Niesen and Chief Financial Officer Matt Smith.

Kearns took the committee formation as a good first step in resolving differences with the administration and recommended suspension of the "work to rule" motion passed in May.

The goal of the motion — which instructs faculty to not engage in any voluntary activities beyond their job requirements — is to encourage the administration to include faculty in budget decision-making.

In good faith, faculty should attend all enrollment activities, he wrote. Kearns clarified in a July 3 email to faculty that they should not attend other voluntary activities.

No confidence: Before the budget passed, college administrators said low enrollment is a major factor affecting the school's operating budget — which was facing a $2.9 million deficit for the upcoming 2018-19 school year.

Gunter-Smith had proposed several changes to benefits to reduce the deficit to $1.5 million, but faculty committees argued they hadn't had enough input in the process.

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The Academic Senate, made up of faculty and administration, considered a motion of no confidence in Gunter-Smith at its May 1 meeting.

Gunter-Smith was unavailable to comment for this story, according to Mary Dolheimer, the college’s vice president of communications.

An Academic Senate meeting is planned for the fall.