Speaking Out: Wheeler, Vick, Crockett

Speaking Out

Following are three statements that originated with the University Council meeting November 29; see coverage [in this issue].--Ed.

Ms. Wheeler's remarks were made in the opening section devoted to reports by the constituencies.

Firing vs. Layoff

In recent weeks there have been articles printed in The Daily Pennsylvanian (DP) alleging to address the matter of "administrative restructuring." The wording of these articles continue to make reference to employees as being "fired" when they were "laid-off." In reporting on such a sensitive subject such as "administrative restructuring," the content of any article should be clear and accurate. "Fired" and "laid- off" have entirely different implications.

The Executive Board of the A-3 Assembly has an ongoing working partnership with Executive Vice President John Fry and other senior administrators here at Penn. There is already widespread concern within the A-3 community regarding potential layoffs. What cannot come into play is a "brush fire of suspension and mistrust" fueled by articles such as those featured in the DP or any other publication. The Executive Board of the A-3 Assembly will continue our efforts to see that any and all inaccuracies reported in the DP or other publications regarding "administrative restructuring" do not undermine this partnership effort.

-- Karen E. Wheeler, Chairperson
A-3 Assembly

Ms. Vick's address was made as part of Council's Public Forum. In Council coverage...President Rodin gives the status of this proposal.

Benefits for Part-Timers

I am a career counselor in Career Planning and Placement, working with graduate students, and I work part-time. Last February I spoke at a University Council meeting and asked you to make a formal commitment to discussing the extension of full benefits on a pro-rated basis to part- time professional employees.

There are a number of part-time professional employees who have worked at the University for many years and have demonstrated a strong commitment to their positions and the University. In the fall of 1993 several of us began meeting in order to persuade the University to extend full benefits on a pro-rated basis to part -time employees.

We studied materials from Catalyst, a national research organization which works to effect change for women in the workplace, and spoke with representatives from other universities. In doing this we found that many employers, including such peer institutions as Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Brown, provide a full benefits package for their part-time employees.

We met with the former Assistant Vice President of Human Resources and representatives of several schools, and discussed our efforts with the A-1 and A-3. This culminated in a letter from us to Interim President Claire Fagin to which she responded by asking the Steering Committee to charge the Personnel Benefits Committee to study our proposal and make a recommendation to University Council by February 1995.

After studying benefits for part-time employees, the Personnel Benefits Committee recommended a cost-neutral option which would add one new benefit: participation in health care expense account using tax free salary dollars. However, this recommendation became immaterial because the Coopers and Lybrand report recommended that the total benefits package be restructured.

We think that a formal and thorough survey of part-time professionals should be conducted and that the benefits received by part-time employees at peer institutions should be examined. As benefits become a more significant portion of compensation, the denial of these benefits is a significant wage penalty on part-time employees and their families. As you know, benefits account for 33% of compensation, making it 25% of total compensation.

Before I close, I would like to state that we are your colleagues who, like you, have a long-term committment to the University. Most of us have worked at the University for at least 5 years while several have worked here 20 years or more.

Finally, we want the University to extend full benefits on a pro- rated basis to part-time professional University employees because it is the right thing to do, because peer institutions do it, and because it will be the best thing for the University if it is to attract and retain the best employees for the 21st century. We ask that Council direct the new Vice President for Human Resources to undertake a serious reconsideration of our proposal during this academic year.

--Julie Miller Vick
Career Planning and Placement

Dr. Crockett's message was interrupted by the clock at Council; it is given in full below. Please see [Council coverage] for the brief response made by President Rodin.

Reaffirmative Action

Affirmative action is under attack in the courts, in Congress, and on university campuses--notably at the University of California. Substantial segments of the general population seem to have bought the idea that affirmative action is reverse discrimination. In this environment, it is important for the supporters of affirmative action to mobilize their response.

Perhaps a reaffirmation of our belief is sufficient, but if dissent is significant on this campus, I believe that a dialogue with the dissenters is desirable. More important, I believe that we must reexamine carefully the groundwork on which our current policies are built in the light of the Supreme Court's move toward closer scrutiny.

I wish to make two points that may be relevant to such a reexamination. With respect to affirmative action in the admission of students, I would make an argument based on the inadequacies of the SATs and other quantitative tests on which admissions decisions are very largely based. These are useful tools, but even if we succeed in eliminating any cultural bias, they are still very imperfect measures of the things we are interested in: innate ability, how well the applicant will succeed academically, how well he or she will succeed in life after college.

Suppose that two applicants have identical SAT scores, and I know that one grew up in comfortable financial circumstances, has highly educated parents, and attended an excellent high school, while the other grew up in poverty, has parents who never finished high school, and attended a second-rate high school. I would not conclude from the equality of scores that the two are equal in innate ability. Rather I would conclude that the chances are very good that the disadvantaged student is brighter. This is not just a hunch of mine; there are data to confirm that the factors I have mentioned affect test performance.

It follows that socioeconomic disadvantage should be considered, in addition to test scores, in the admission decision. I would go one step farther. In some cases present disadvantage can be related to past discriminatory acts by the government against the applicant's parents or grandparents. In the case of disadvantaged African Americans and Native Americans, this seems to me to create a powerful argument for affirmative action--no matter how strict the Court's scrutiny.

My second point relates to affirmative action in the hiring of faculty. I believe that the strongest argument here depends not on a past history of discrimination, but on the University's right to make hiring decisions that meet its own needs.

There is no question at all of hiring faculty who are not well qualified. That is a large red herring. `But within thewell-qualified pool, the University should give weight to diversity because it needs more diversity than it has to do its job well.

Take women as an example. Women faculty and students share a wide range of gender-related experiences, and that shared experience can give women faculty some special insight into how to present material in a way that will make sense to women students, that willmake them comfortable with the subject, and that will arouse their interest. For some women students this is not important; they could not care less if they never had a woman professor. But for many others this special insight does matter.

Exactly the same argument can be made for African Americans or other minorities. It follows that we are not offering equal education to women and minority students unless there is a critical mass of women and minorities among the faculty in all parts of the University. One or two here and there will not do it.

-- Jean A. Crockett
Professor Emerita of Finance


Tuesday, December 12, 1995
Volume 42 Number 15

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