Fordham Faculty Rights

A website dedicated to the Fordham Faculty's fight for equitable treatment on salary, benefits and co-governance issues.

Testimonials

Here’s what Fordham faculty are saying about the proposed cuts to health care benefits:

” . . . how consistent is it with Fordham’s Jesuit mission for the Board to reduce its ability to provide faculty health benefits in order to subsidize, as only two examples, a nearly $700,000 dollar basketball coach and a $500,000 provost ? At Fordham, money defies the law of gravity.”

Dear Fordham Board of Trustees:

During the on-going discussions on faculty health benefits, Father McShane has repeatedly voiced his respect for the Fordham faculty. I believe him.

Your letter of April 17 suggest you do not share his feeling. As a Fordham alumnus and now faculty member, I find it deeply disrespectful, and offensive, to imply that the faculty would in some way be responsible for “hindering” the Board’s “ability to provide financial aid” in order “to subsidize faculty health insurance benefits.” That implication pits us against our students, and sets us up as being “inconsistent with Fordham’s Jesuit mission.”

From a different viewpoint, how consistent is it with Fordham’s Jesuit mission for the Board to reduce its ability to provide faculty health benefits in order to subsidize, as only two examples, a nearly $700,000 dollar basketball coach and a $500,000 provost ? At Fordham, money defies the law of gravity.

My Fordham teachers were my mentors, and instrumental in my career. I am proud to be following in their footsteps. As I am sure they knew, we know that keeping a university on stable financial footing may involve sacrifices—but why should faculty bear all the sacrifice? Fordham is a school committed to social justice. This is not just.
As you suggest, let us indeed remember Fordham’s mission: “Fordham encourages faculty to discuss and promote the ethical dimensions of what is being studied and what is being taught.”

Warren Dana Holman, DSW
Clinical Associate Professor
Graduate School of Social Service
Bene merenti, 2017 

The issue is not only the harshness of a proposal that will directly impact on an underpaid faculty and their families, it is the way Fordham University has chosen to negotiate in bad faith, or rather chosen not to negotiate at all.

The University’s current stance will end up hurting faculty’s health as well as the health of their families, medically and mentally. Yet accompanying that stance we see no vision, we see no plan, we see no way in which the University will benefit other than cutting its costs and setting a precedent for cutting them yet again, all the while destroying whatever sense there is among the faculty that this is a community worth sacrificing for.

And make no mistake about it – – at every turn this tension will make itself felt, in the classroom and in faculty student relations. As a senior faculty member and current department chair, I cannot ask younger faculty to sacrifice for a sense of community that this administration and staff, put in place by the president himself, clearly have forgotten. I cannot ask junior faculty to neglect or postpone their own research to be “persons for others” when their lives and needs meet with stony indifference from the university. Nor can I try to persuade current prized faculty to stay when other positions appear. Nor can I give my full enthusiasm to recruiting either faculty or students. When parents who are friends ask about the possibility of their children attending, I see no reason to tell them why they should come to Fordham rather than to another university, including a public university. At one time I could say, “This will all pass,” but it is abundantly clear that is simply not true.

The issue is not only the harshness of a proposal that will directly impact on an underpaid faculty and their families, it is the way Fordham University has chosen to negotiate in bad faith, or rather chosen not to negotiate at all. Indeed, it substitutes for reason and dialogue the bludgeon of threat. It suggests that rhetoric about the university’s Jesuit mission is merely jesuitical, in the very worst sense of the word.

Over the past decade and more, we have heard of visions and promises. Soaring rhetoric now has diminished to minimal goals that can be achieved cheaply under a model that is corporate rather than academic. I can remember when this administration was determined to make Fordham the best Catholic university in America. One wants to ask how the President and Board of Trustees will feel about presiding over the Walmart of American private universities.

From the beginning, I made a commitment not to let my illness interfere with my obligations to my students, my colleagues of the University, and I have maintained this commitment through all the pain, the fatigue and the many other side effects of my treatment.

In early 2015, I was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. In the past two years, I have had a major surgery followed by a rehabilitation lasting months, undergone 40 sessions of intensive radiation and spent a year undergoing two powerful chemotherapies. From the beginning, I made a commitment not to let my illness interfere with my obligations to my students, my colleagues of the University, and I have maintained this commitment through all the pain, the fatigue and the many other side effects of my treatment. I have not cancelled a single class, or renounced a single duty in either my department of the University.

The quality of our current healthcare insurance was a key factor, along with the support of my wife and my Chair, in enabling me to stay the course. Despite incurring several hundred thousand dollars in health care costs in the past 2 years, my out-of-pocket expenses under the UGH Enhanced pan were low enough that I was able to cover them from my $2500 flex spending account with funds left over for uninsured dental and vision expenses. Under the standard plan, I would have reached the $10,000 cap on out-of-pocket expenses in both years….

I plead with you not to subject the Fordham family, and mine, to such a trial but to heed, instead, the words of Ignatius—especially those I have emphasized—from Constitution 243 of the Society of Jesus:

So also due consideration and prudent care should be employed toward preserving in their vocation those who are being retained and tested in the houses or colleges, and toward enabling them to make progress, both in spirit and in virtues along the path of the divine service, in such a manner that proper care is also taken for the health and bodily strength necessary to labor in the Lord’s vineyard.

The administration’s proposal does not only break the promises it just made, giving no faith in any future promise, it also positions the University as a place that no longer cares for its core values.

The reason Fordham can function like a liberal arts college although it is a university is due to the generosity of its faculty outside of the classroom in addition to the smaller class sizes. Faculty here work extremely hard and give far, far more time to their students than my friends, family, and colleagues who are professors at Columbia and NYU. It is outstanding work, but one that comes at a huge cost of human capital. As it is right now, many lecturers already take on another full or part-time job to make the bills; and faculty, contingent faculty, and staff have to live farther and farther away to find a rent that is bearable. Many professors at Fordham are also discussing taking on another job if they are to stay. There will be no other way to sustain the benefit cuts promoted by the administration. I live month to month. Actually, I live in deficit month to month. I share a 400-square foot one-bedroom apartment with my wife and two daughters that costs $2400/month. Although rent stabilized, the rent has historically gone up more than my raise and it is still too expensive when childcare expenses, food, debt payments, transportation, insurance, phone, utilities, research expenses not covered by Fordham, etc., are factored in. And my situation is again not “normal,” I’m far better off both in terms of pay and in living conditions than many of my colleagues and almost all of my junior colleagues. I could choose to live farther away and pay the same amount or more for more space, but as I’m at school most days from 8:30 am until 6:45 pm and many days until midnight, it is more convenient. My children are young too and I like to see them. So squandering an hour or two in commute that could be spent with them doesn’t make sense.

The administration’s proposal does not only break the promises it just made, giving no faith in any future promise, it also positions the University as a place that no longer cares for its core values. The qualities that have made many think Fordham was distinctive and that gave it its stickiness are eroding. Fordham has historically taken care of its sick and vulnerable. Fordham has cared for its family. The new plan will make these family members pay more, significantly more. The slash to benefits at a time when the University is trying to raise its reputation and rankings undermines the very essence of that ambition. Without the Fordham core, without faculty and staff that work together and feel united, then Fordham just becomes a second-rate institution with inadequate resources….

A typical day from last week:

5:15—wake-up
5:30—emails to students, admin, and colleagues
6:30—exercises/workout for back and general health on the floor (can’t afford a gym but do have to move furniture around so there is enough space to lie flat to do exercises)
7:00—wake-up children, prepare breakfast and lunches, shower
7:40—take children to school
8:00—head to Fordham
8:30—respond to emails (students on class changes, colleagues on requests for funding)
9:30—Committee meeting
11:30—personnel reports for contingent faculty
12:30—homemade lunch in office (kale salad, sardines, and avocado) while reading US and International papers
12:50—respond to emails (department, committees, prospective student)
1:00—committee meeting
2:00—final class preparation
2:30—teach class
3:45—office hours: review draft of an essay, work with two students to prepare for a prize competition, counsel student on graduate school and career plans
5:00—tutorial
6:00—attend student competition, semi-final before final competition against Columbia and NYU.
9:00—head home
9:20—read to daughters and say goodnight
fundraising emails for student benefit concert
9:45—make a quick dinner and have a conversation with my wife, wash dishes and clean apartment a bit
10:20—fundraising emails for student benefit concert
10:50—committee emails
12:00 am—Recommendations for students writing to graduate school, internships, study abroad, and prestigious fellowships
1:00 am—Recommendations for contingent faculty seeking employment elsewhere
1:45 am—Emails to secure a spousal hire for a job candidate
2:00 am—Review of merit pay files for the department in preparation for meeting, although very possibly there will be no merit this year because of salary/benefit dispute
3:00 am—Preparation for paper at national conference at the end of the week
3:30 am—too tired and go to bed: still to do that is pressing and should be done before tomorrow. Grade papers, prepare for next class, write and submit additional personnel reports for contingent faculty, find jurors for prize, revise my chapter to submit to my reading group for discussion, file flexible spending receipts before the reimbursement limit is over… talk with and reassure my daughters as it is testing week and they are anxious and not feeling well, plan for babysitters while I’m out of town and at the benefit when I return…
5:45 am—Up for emails, write letter to Board and university president on benefit changes, and it begins again!

This year’s negotiation process is not about faculty self-interest over salary but about a commitment to the common good of every non-union employee of the university, many of whom are much more economically vulnerable than the faculty, and all of whom serve our students loyally and with love.

Granted economic times are precarious. But the faculty negotiating team continues to work strenuously with the team representing the administration to find a way to help Fordham meet its challenging budgetary goals without jeopardizing the faculty and staff’s ability to pay for needed physical and mental health. I implore you to allow the negotiations to reach a mutually agreeable solution, even if that means working past the April budget date.

As a faculty member since 1991, I receive a salary that is respectable and allows me to mostly afford to live as a single person in the New York area, though last year given some details in my own no-frills economic situation, if I had had an additional $5,000 in medical expenses (the proposed new out-of-pocket cap for single individuals), I could have lost my house. I cannot imagine what a similar scenario for someone making far less than my salary in a year of hardship would have been—and the situation for faculty and staff with families where out of pocket expenses will rise to $10,000 will be even more grave and consequential. That long-serving members of the Fordham community may face dire choices such as that between health and home if these proposed changes go through is shocking. We must–and can–find a better way.

It comes down to the message the university wants to send to its community, and to the city that is looking on as Fordham defines itself internally and externally in its Dodransbicentennial year. This is not a moment of simple economic choice, grave as the economic implications of that choice may be. The choice is also a lasting one about message. Negotiating hardball over the benefits that make being at Fordham possible on a practical level given the expenses of life in the New York area sends an unsettling message. This year’s negotiation process is not about faculty self-interest over salary but about a commitment to the common good of every non-union employee of the university, many of whom are much more economically vulnerable than the faculty, and all of whom serve our students loyally and with love. The negotiating teams should work beyond an artificial budget deadline to find a humane solution collaboratively. We are all–individually and communally–worth that time.

It’s likely that my total medical bills related to my cancer will exceed $200,000 by the end of this year. Assuming that all expenses continue to be in-network, under the “standard plan,” my out-of-pocket would be $20,000 or more.

“You have cancer.”

This is news that I hope that neither you, nor any of your loved ones, will ever hear. It is, however, the reality that was thrust upon me in September, 2016 when I suddenly began urinating a stream of blood. At the emergency room, I was told that I had probably had kidney cancer. Subsequent tests confirmed that diagnosis, and treatment involved the surgical removal of my entire left kidney and urethra in October, 2016. As is often the case with my particular type of kidney cancer, the disease spread to my urinary bladder and it will require many months or years of additional monitoring and treatments to keep at bay.

I have been following the conversations about the possible reduction of Fordham faculty’s health insurance with great concern for my personal situation, as well as for my colleagues. I am not some hypothetical exemplar, but a real person with real expenses and the need to aggressively treat a potentially deadly disease….

It’s likely that my total medical bills related to my cancer will exceed $200,000 by the end of this year. Assuming that all expenses continue to be in-network, under the “standard plan,” my out-of-pocket would be $20,000 or more. This would be a very significant financial burden.

I think it is important to point out that the good coverage that I have had under the current UNH plan has enabled me to concentrate my energy on my treatment and recovery, rather than having to deal with the additional stress of bearing a heavy financial burden.

I hope that you will consider cases like mine when you make your decisions regarding the health insurance plan for Fordham faculty.

This family’s costs will jump by $9,200.

For my family personally, this new health contract is going to result in an increase in costs of at least $9,200 as well as a lowering in the quality of our level of service.

“If cura personalis is not exercised towards those who make Fordham the university it is, who will be there to exercise cura personalis towards the students to whom we so devotedly dedicate our service?”

One of the features that attracted me to Fordham when I was lucky enough to have a choice of jobs in 2012 was the university’s robust healthcare plan. A senior colleague who had formerly taught at Fordham for many years recommended it for exactly that reason. I have relied on our healthcare benefits to receive treatment for the chronic illnesses I currently suffer, and, given the genetics I’ve been allotted, I’ve planned on relying on them in the future, should I receive tenure. My experience at Fordham, in my department, with my colleagues, has been nothing short of a dream come true, and I feel strong loyalty to the university and care a great deal about its students; the future I have imagined at Fordham is a long one.

In view of that future, the proposed changes to our healthcare will have an unsustainable impact on my financial and physical well being in the short and long term. In the short term, I will almost certainly pay more than $5000 out of pocket to continue working with the behavioral health therapist I have built a relationship with over the past 4 years. I have received professional treatment for depression since I was 19 years old. Finding a therapist whose methodology agrees with one’s needs and whose temperament agrees with one’s personality is, I can attest, an extremely difficult, long, and often painful process. I am lucky to have found one who has brought me further along in treatment than any therapist I have previously worked with. Should my healthcare change, there is no way I will be able to afford the financial burden of continuing to see him–the small amount of money I am able to save each year on my Fordham salary falls well short of $5000. I will have to find a new therapist, a process that can take, and has in the past taken years, leading to periods of debilitating relapse. I also see a GI specialist for my autoimmune disorder who is not in network, who I will need to give up under the proposed changes.

I fear even more for the long term ramifications. My father’s mother and her sister died of non-Hodgkins lymphoma; my father’s father currently suffers from Lewy Body dementia; my father’s sister has had a hysterectomy, double mastectomy, and nephrectomy because of cancer; my father’s brother has been treated for malignant melanoma; and my father is currently under treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Both of my mother’s parents died from colorectal cancers before they reached 70 years of age. Though I’m hopeful for a long and healthy life, I realize that the likelihood of my contracting some form of cancer during my lifetime is high. Given what I have researched and read in the proposed new healthcare plan, I do not see how I will be able to sustain the financial burden of medical expenses, should I be so unlucky. As compassionate human beings, we can all recognize the utter social injustice of anyone having to suffer incapacitating financial hardship due to illness, especially illness that cannot be prevented. It never in a million years would have occurred to me that a university professor might face the same prospect because of unilateral changes to his or her healthcare benefits.

I urge you, not just out of compassion for those faculty and staff across the university who rely on Fordham’s current healthcare plans to cover expensive medical and behavioral health treatments, but also out of compassion for younger faculty and staff who wish to cultivate a career-long relationship with the university, to preserve the health care benefits we currently receive, to abide by university statutes, and to engage in genuinely good faith negotiations with the Faculty Senate on any future changes to our health care. If cura personalis is not exercised towards those who make Fordham the university it is, who will be there to exercise cura personalis towards the students to whom we so devotedly dedicate our service?

“The dramatic cuts to our health insurance coverage proposed by the Administration won’t just rewrite the contract I entered into with Fordham in 2007, it will require that I change my relationship to Fordham — not because I want to do so, but because I won’t be able to afford to do otherwise.”

Fordham’s more than adequate current health care benefits make it possible for me to thrown myself into my work at the university. Knowing that my daughter, who struggles with autistic impairments, will have the critical therapeutic services she needs — allows me the peace of mind to participate in a creating a culture of care for our students. I’m able to pass along that amazing blend of scholarship and compassion that first inspired me to join the Fordham faculty.

But sadly, it seems, that is about to change. My family will incur, at a minimum, an additional $9,600 in out-of-pocket costs if the proposed health insurance shift takes place. As I serve on the Salary and Benefits Committee, these numbers have been vetted by our health insurance consultant multiple times. They aren’t a fantasy, though they are a nightmare. To cover that loss will require that I come up with an additional $14,000 annually (since I’ll be paying these costs with after tax dollars). To make ends meet, I’ll simply have to find additional work: consulting, a part-time appointment, or another position altogether.

Thus the dramatic cuts to our health insurance coverage proposed by the Administration won’t just rewrite the contract I entered into with Fordham in 2007, it will require that I change my relationship to Fordham — not because I want to do so, but because I won’t be able to afford to do otherwise. I’ll have no choice but to say no to so many of the activities I pursue now on behalf of our students, faculty, and our broader scholarly communities. To say this saddens me doesn’t begin to describe my feelings.

This professor and mother of three will see her out-of-pocket costs jump from $800 to $4000.

I am a professor and a mother of three. Last year, my family out-of-pocket expenses stood at around $800 under the Enhanced plan: this is our usual annual out-of-pocket costs given chronic lower back pain and occasional childhood illnesses in the family. With the Standard plan, I have calculated that our 2016 expenses would have been $4,000. This would be manageable for a year. Beyond, it would compromise our standard of living.

“. . . I know of colleagues who have calculated an increase above $5,000 a year, and in some cases over $10,000.”

I am personally alarmed by what the proposed health care plan will cost for my family (I’ve calculated an increase of over $3,000 per year). But I am much more alarmed by what this will do to faculty at large, and above all to our junior faculty with families and to all our faculty facing major health issues (of any kind). I know of colleagues who have calculated an increase above $5,000 a year, and in some cases over $10,000. These costs are real and deep, and will do serious immediate harm to individual faculty.

“Instead of opening [Fordham] to expensive and time-consuming legal action by violating the statutes, please work with the Faculty Senate to find a mutually acceptable solution.”

The current health proposal threatens our livelihoods and, if implemented, would probably drive many of us to seek positions elsewhere. As an expert on work-family issues, I could cite scientific research on the importance of good benefits for recruitment, retention, and productivity. But instead, it seems better to tell my personal story. My family of four relies entirely on my salary and benefits to survive in a very expensive city, and making ends meet is always dicey; there has been no possibility of saving for the future. The Enhanced Plan’s coverage has been critical to our well-being. Under the Standard Plan, we would be down $1070 annually even when the plan’s lower premiums are taken into account. We do not have any cushion to absorb such a pay cut.

We faculty are hardly deaf to President McShane’s call for shared sacrifice. In my department… we have learned to live with reduced administrative support, adjusted to lower funding for discretionary research expenses, and accepted that a planned move to a renovated set of offices was not going to happen. In contrast, faculty health care is the wrong place to look for major savings. I urge the President and Trustees not to squander our good will. Instead of opening itself to expensive and time-consuming legal action by violating the statutes, please work with the Faculty Senate to find a mutually acceptable solution.

Morale, research productivity, and the ability of Fordham to attract and high-caliber faculty will suffer.

I completely understand the desire of the administration and trustees to carefully mind the budget to maintain the long-term sustainability of Fordham. This is, of course, a shared interest, and the administration and faculty should work together to achieve this mutual goal. I also ask you, your cabinet and the trustees to consider the fact that a breakdown in the negotiations and in the relationship between the administration and faculty, and the imposition of unilateral decisions about compensation without consent of the senate, in violation of the statutes, has substantial and significant costs that are not so easily visible on a budget spreadsheet, but which nevertheless also have real and important consequences for the future of the university. These costs include a lowered morale among the faculty, which reduces teaching quality and research productivity and will result in a decrease in the ability of Fordham to attract and retain the kind of high-caliber faculty that make Fordham such a special place.

“. . . uphold the statutes now in place, and return to the standards of co-governance that have kept the university running well for decades.”

I have been a faculty member in Fordham’s Graduate School of Education since 1997. I am writing to urge you and the rest of the Fordham Board of Trustees, in the strongest possible terms, to change course in our faculty benefits negotiations and work within the existing set of university statutes to come to a fair and equitable solution. …. I am fortunate enough to not suffer from any life-threatening conditions. Regardless, my medical chart does contain a few long-standing items. Since age 27 (I am now 58), I have relied on an implanted cardiac pace-maker to correct a complete congenital heart block diagnosed at age 16. This device has warranted replacement very 5-8 years as I am completely dependent on it to maintain a resting heart rate of at least 68 beats per minute.…Needless to say, my surgeries and follow-up care visits with specialists, are expensive albeit covered through insurance at Fordham with minimal co-pays through UHC (that are higher than when I was on Oxford). Fortunately, many of my doctors have been in network or willing to accept my insurance. …Clearly, changes in our health care plan, as proposed, will raise my out of pocket health care expenses throughout the remainder of my time at Fordham and impact my income, both proximally and distally. It is unpleasant for me to think of those colleagues with greater health care needs than mine whose income will suffer far worse.

I respectfully implore you and the Board to change its current course, uphold the statutes now in place, and return to the standards of co-governance that have kept the university running well for decades. It is my hope that the Board will help us maintain the social justice ethos that characterizes the Fordham community and not contribute to the erosion of the academic, physical, and fiscal health of its community members. Unfortunately, this latter course of action seems more in evidence.

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