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Task Force to Review BU’s Employee Benefits Program

Health, retirement, tuition remission among items being considered


President Robert A. Brown has appointed a task force to comprehensively review the University’s employee benefits program—among them health care, retirement, tuition remission, and long-term disability. Brown will announced the initiative in an email to faculty and staff this morning.

“Our obligation is to ensure that Boston University can continue to thrive—long into the future—as an institution that offers excellent education and one where new ideas, inventions, and solutions are created and incubated,” Brown writes. “To meet this obligation, we need to recruit and retain excellent faculty and staff. Simultaneously, we need to deploy our financial resources prudently, with sober assessments of economic realities and the evolving competitive landscape for higher education.”

The goals of the task force, stated in Brown’s letter, are to ensure that University benefits support the recruitment and retention of faculty and staff, are competitive with peer institutions, are cost-effective, and are sustainable over the long term. Beginning April 16, task force members will meet twice a month, with a September 1 deadline for delivering their initial report. At that time, the report will be made available to the University community, whose members will be encouraged to comment via their respective representatives. Implementation of any changes would begin in January 2016.

Brown has appointed Robert Meenan, dean of the School of Public Health, as the task force chair and a special assistant on his staff. The task force comprises a dozen representatives chosen from faculty, staff, Human Resources, and Alumni Relations.

The president says he chose Meenan (MED’72, GSM’89), who announced in November that he would step down as SPH dean once a successor is chosen, for his understanding of the importance of benefits programs in the recruitment and retention of employees. The dean, who is also a physician, led a similar review at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts, where he serves on the board of directors.

“Benefits are basically a critical success factor for any organization, BU included,” Meenan says. “On the plus side, we’re always competing to retain and attract faculty and staff. On the resources side, we need to use all our resources effectively,” and that means taking a critical look at health care and retirement plans.

Health insurance is changing dramatically with the implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) and with recent economic trends.

“Health care continues to grow more than most other costs,” says task force member Diane Tucker, the University’s chief human resources officer. “We need to bend the curve on that. We can’t sustain continued growth.”

Of great concern for the University, she says, are the ACA’s so-called Cadillac tax and the rapidly rising cost of BU’s prescription drug plan. Under the ACA, the federal government has the authority to impose a tax on health care plans priced at what it deems to be above-market value. Based on the value of the University’s current health plans, BU would pay an excise tax of approximately $2.8 million in 2018 and a total of $31.6 million from 2018 through 2024. “We would be sending a lot of money to the government,” Tucker says, instead of using those funds around campus.

Meenan says the task force will also look at the University’s retirement plan and will consider whether the current two-year waiting period for new employees to sign up should be reduced. Other considerations are whether the University should adjust the percentage of the amount it matches and whether the current plan equitably addresses the retirement options of lower- versus higher-paid employees.

Tuition remission, a signature benefit of employment at many institutions of higher education, will also be studied. Meenan points out that as BU’s student admissions standards become more selective, fewer employees can enjoy the benefit. Also under review is the University’s pension program for employees, which is considered less competitive than those at peer institutions, Tucker says. The two-year waiting period for all new employees is a particular sticking point.

“There’s potential for some major changes, and we will need to begin to think about it,” she says. “I think that there’ll be some changes that will be very positive for faculty and staff.”

Leslie Friday, BU Today, Boston University
Leslie Friday

Follow Leslie Friday on Twitter at @lesliefriday.

10 Comments on Task Force to Review BU’s Employee Benefits Program

  • Sean on 04.03.2014 at 6:11 am

    Seems contradictory to point to bending cost curve and then say the Cadillac tax, which could curb costs, is cause for concern. There would likely be no ACA whatsoever without the support that the excise tax drew in deficit reduction.

  • Bill on 04.03.2014 at 10:24 am

    this has a “we’re going to cut some employee benefits to build some more gold plated hallways” kind of ring to it.

  • Max on 04.03.2014 at 12:12 pm

    Most of these items (outside of the health care proposal) seem positive. I hope benefits are not the next area for which administrative staff are targeted for cost savings. BU already has enough issues recruiting quality staff candidates based on competitive higher education salaries in the Boston area.

  • cary on 04.03.2014 at 1:46 pm

    It would be nice to be able to use the FitRec. I don’t think this is too much to ask, but to cut benefits would be devastating. It’s humiliating enough that we get paid markedly less than our peer institutions. One of the redeeming qualities is the benefits are good, though the pay is not. Pay crappy salaries, students get crappy services…I’m already surrounded by enough mediocrity here. Let’s not make it worse.

  • Alyssa on 04.03.2014 at 3:49 pm

    It would be great to have half of the cost of MBTA passes covered by BU as Harvard University does for their employees. In addition to it being a very appealing benefit that a lot of employees would use, it also would support BU’s efforts to be more green by encouraging the use of public transportation.

    • Anonymous on 04.07.2014 at 12:02 pm

      BU doesn’t care about actually being green; BU cares about appearing green.

  • Anon on 04.03.2014 at 5:01 pm

    I’m kind of surprised people are reading this fluff article and expecting better benefits…

    This is the sugar-coated pill that says we will be reducing benefits so we can continue to waste money elsewhere. The only question that should be raised here is how BAD the cuts are going to be.

  • compassion? on 04.05.2014 at 4:53 pm

    BU: I’m already having to skimp severely on medicines and doctor’s appointments on the current employee health plan. It got dramatically less supportive and more financially exacting for us when it was changed three years ago. I am terrified for my health by this impending overhaul.
    Please… Have compassion. We are loyal employees, please show you care. Thank you.

  • parking on 04.07.2014 at 11:22 am

    Why do BU employee have to pay for parking? I park at the medical campus Albany St. garage which has 9 floors, most of the time I end up parking on the 7th or 8th floor twice a day daily. By parking there, I had to have my brakes and tires replace paying over $1200 due to the heave wear and tear to my tires and brakes damage while parking. Many of the BU Medical staff park there as well, and they too, have similar problems with their brakes and tire. So in effect I am paying for the garage and the damage it causes when I park there over $2400. Unbelievable!

  • Jose Artigas on 04.28.2015 at 6:13 pm

    This is abundant proof that BU cares little or nothing about employees unless they bring in large amounts of money to the university. It is the logical extension of applying the business model to higher ed, & running universities like for-profit companies. The employee unions at BU will try to hold the line against further degradation of benefits, but active support from their members is a must. Some real, high-visibility protests would also help. A blow to BU’s public image is similar to hitting them in the bank account, the only place the admin feels anything.

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