Waiting for answers: Proposed changes to tuition remission and exchange policy have faculty and staff concerned

RYAN LOVELACE AND MARAIS JACON-DUFFY | Managing editor and news editor

Butler University’s Faculty Affairs Committee will consider the Board of Trustees’ recommendations to alter faculty and staff tuition remission and exchange benefits.

The board’s plan would deny long-standing benefits to new employees if Butler adopts the plan.

The remission program allows Butler students to have 100 percent of their tuition waived if the students’ parent or spouse has worked at Butler for at least nine months.

The exchange program allows Butler students to have 100 percent of their tuition waived if their parent or spouse worked—for at least nine months—for a member institution of the tuition exchange program in which Butler participates.

The Board of Trustees has recommended that employees’ spouses and dependents should not receive a full tuition waiver for either program until the employee has worked at Butler or a member institution for at least three years. Under the proposal, employees using tuition remission to take classes at Butler would not see their benefits change. Employees would not be able to apply for tuition exchange until they have worked three years at Butler.

“Unless there is a really compelling argument, I don’t understand it, and I don’t think it’s a good idea,” said pharmacy professor Kent VanTyle, who used the tuition remission and exchange benefits for his two daughters.

VanTyle said he knew he and his wife could receive benefits for their daughters’ college through the remission and exchange programs, so they spent the money that would have been for college on private K-12 schools.

“A lot of employees build these benefits into their family’s financial planning,” VanTyle said. “We certainly did. And it helped immensely with both daughters.”

Butler’s tuition remission program is older than some of the university’s freshmen.

Butler created the tuition remission policy in June 1993 and revised the plan twice as of December 2011.

The Board of Trustees then proposed new changes to the programs last December.

These recommendations would require new employees to have an employment history four times longer than the current standard in order to receive the same benefits dependents and spouses of Butler employees already receive.

Only once an employee has worked three years could they have access to the full tuition remission and exchange programs, according to the board’s recommendations.

Bruce Arick, vice president for finance and administration, presented the changes to the Faculty Senate on April 30, 2013.

Senators voted that same day to “strongly disagree” with the plan and requested that Butler wait to make a decision until this fall.

On Sept. 9, 2013, Butler faculty and staff were informed that discussion of the policy and proposed changes would not appear on the Faculty Senate agenda for Sept. 10, as was previously announced.

Butler’s faculty was also informed that the Faculty Affairs Committee is going to look over the proposed changes and policy and provide recommendations to Faculty Senate.

An email sent to Butler faculty and staff said the item should be “back on the agenda

soon.”

Until faculty meet to discuss the employee benefits in question, President James Danko told The Collegian, via email, no changes would be made.

Arick said Butler is looking at peer and aspirant institutions to determine the future of the tuition remission and exchange benefits and said, “there’s no guarantee there’s going to be any change.”

Faculty Senate chair Margaret Brabant told Tuesday’s Faculty Senate meeting the issue of tuition remission and exchange would be discussed by the Faculty Affairs Committee, and would then be discussed at the Senate’s second meeting on Sept. 24.

Any decision made by the Faculty Affairs Committee could impact the employees and students of today and tomorrow.

Stephan Laurent-Faesi, dance professor and faculty senator at-large said in an email to the Collegian that his own experience as a father of three made him more sensitive to the issue.

“The topic is a tough one,” Laurent-Faesi said. “On one hand, is the institution’s need for revenue to offset the ongoing and constantly increasing expenses.

“On the other is this great benefit, which in many ways coaxed Butler employees, both Faculty and Staff, to stay on board. Any change to the tuition remission policy would have far-reaching consequences in both how the faculty and staff view the employer,” Laurent-Faesi said.

Melissa Smurdon, director of the office of financial aid, said these programs represent an employee benefit that acts an important recruitment tool of students and faculty for Butler.

Smurdon said Butler exports approximately 40 students and imports 50 students via the tuition exchange program each year. Arick said he estimates that more than 100 combined students benefit from the exchange and remission programs in a given year.

In its recommendations, the board sought to exclude beneficiaries of the tuition remission program from “certain programs with capacity constraints.”

The board did not specify which programs would be off-limits, and board president Craig Fenneman did not return requests for comment.

Human resources director La Veda Howell said that any change made to these benefits would be developed with peer schools and national trends in mind.

Howell said many universities have a waiting period of five years to receive remission benefits, and added that no final decision has been made.

“We haven’t said that faculty and staff need to take it or leave it,” Howell said. “We absolutely want to make sure that all parties involved are content with decisions made and that we can all come to some closure.”

Ben Hunter, chief of staff, said the fluid nature with which this issue has changed is natural in any policy change process.

VanTyle said he can only understand financial motivations to prompt the policy switch.

“I can only imagine that they must want to keep that seat open for a paying student instead of a student receiving tuition remission,” VanTyle said. “It costs the university nothing to put a student into a classroom that is already staffed and will happen regardless.”

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