3 thoughts on “A Very Brief Note to Tenured Radical

  1. Hmmm. So, if the university instead chose to greatly reduce health care benefits, which would really only impact those who were unhealthy, would the same arguments apply?

    As a commenter on the original post notes, the promise of free tuition is a big part of what attracts and retains many faculty members. I would probably have left the academy long ago in favor of a higher-paying industry job were it not for that one benefit.

    At our university, the tuition benefit goes to faculty, spouses, domestic partners, and children, which does seem more fair.

  2. The difference between the educational benefit and the heathcare benefit, at least the way that they’re applied by most institutions, is that all of us know that at some point in the future we’re likely to enter the ranks of those who rely heavily on the healthcare benefit. Even if the use of it at any given moment isn’t equal, the potential need for it is. And so its applicability is equal, across the institution.

    The education benefit isn’t distributed equally, though; there are some of us who are technically eligible who will never enter into the ranks of those who rely upon it. And there are many, at many institutions — staff, I mean — who will never be eligible.

    That’s the situation at TR’s institution, and I take the most important part of her post not to be the specifics of the debate about whether that benefit should be cut or not, but the immediacy of the cries of selfishness anytime someone points out that this is a differential benefit that does not treat everyone equally.

    As Laura suggests in the comments, it would be a very different discussion if this were a benefit that the employee were able to use freely — for a child, a partner, or (as I would use it were I allowed) for a niece whose single mother will never be able to give her the education I’d like to see her receive. But because it’s specifically tied to the nuclear family, this benefit can never be an equitable one.

    For that reason declaring it off-limits in times of budget retrenchment suggests that the values of the nuclear family must supercede everything else. I don’t know the specific situation at Zenith, but what they’re talking about is slowing the rate of growth in the benefit, not doing away with it, and calling those willing to countenance such a move anti-family or anti-child seems something worth calling out.

  3. I don’t know the details at Zenith, but at my SLAC, the regular tuition benefit applies to children of faculty and staff, and fac/staff & spouses can take individual courses for $100 each (virtually free). For many staff, it is the key benefit that links them to the institution for the long-term. While I sympathize that it is not universally available to everyone, the bottom line is that the entire benefit system is predicated on the nuclear family, and it’s hard to imagine how it could operate in another manner without total systemic overhaul. And as we see with the healthcare debate, systemic overhaul ain’t gonna happen.

    Another important point that I know they’re trying to deal with at Middlebury is that the tuition benefit is somewhat regressive in terms of class – if you are wealthy enough to not qualify for financial aid, the tuition break is just a benefit. But if you qualify for aid, the benefit is subtracted from your aid, effectively minimizing the benefit. It’s a tough problem to both be fair and equitable, and address the real need.

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