Dear Members of the Mount Community,
We write as retired members of the Mount community who collectively served 104 years at the Mount. Our decades of serving the Mount gave us deep satisfaction and shaped the love we have for this community. We looked forward to retirement in light of our good fortune in teaching at this university.
We, like all retirees, were shocked when we learned in November of the very abrupt termination of the retiree health benefit this January. In past decades the Mount allowed retirees to stay on its medical insurance plan at their own expense. Then this post-retirement benefit was changed to a stipend by which retirees could purchase their own health insurance. The eventual termination of this benefit was grandfathered so that members of the community hired after 1996 had ample warning. Those hired prior to July 1996 who retired at the minimum age of 62 and had ten years of full time continuous service would receive this stipend. These employees planned their retirement confident the Mount would honor this promised retirement benefit. The shock of the sudden complete termination shook retirees deeply. It was especially troubling for hourly workers who served at such low wages, preventing their accruing large retirement savings. They accepted these low wages, being assured that they had benefits such as the retirement insurance benefit. Our hourly personnel will be hit hardest by the sudden and complete termination of this expected benefit.
We were also shocked by the way we were informed – by receiving a letter in the mail or an email and in some cases, not being informed at all. President Newman in a speech to the community left it to Pauline Engelstätter to explain this abrupt change. The letter stated that this type of benefit was not found at other schools, yet we easily identified schools that offer such a benefit. We researched a range of area colleges/universities and Catholic universities, but abandoned this inquiry when it simply became too depressing to learn of the excellent health benefits offered to retirees by so many institutions. We also continue to be left in the dark about the dire economic situation reported by President Newman and his consultants which is said to justify the decision. We are left wondering why the Board and executive administrators were not aware of or responsive to this economic crisis that developed over the last decade under their watch.
What also deeply upset retirees was the abrupt dumping of the retirees after decades of service with no gradual phasing in of changes or grandfathering of this drastic change. In the past such changes were grandfathered in, and this was right and just. The suddenness of the decision and unpreparedness of retirees evoked much anger. University Professors were especially angry since they had reviewed with President Powell specific terms of their retirement and benefits and agreed to retire in some cases earlier than they had planned based on this understanding. One of us was told by President Powell that she would have this health benefit “until the day she died.” We trusted the Mount to honor its promises.
We were also troubled by the way these changes were abruptly announced to the community. When President Houston met with the community regarding the debt we had fallen into due to a previous administration, he interacted with the community in a way that brought all of us to willingly make sacrifices to support the good of the community. This current situation was handled in a way that evoked anger. Given the service provided by retirees, they were deserving of the opportunity to hear President Newman in person present the justifications for breaking a promise to retirees. Perhaps if it had been handled as graciously as President Houston had handled negative financial news, the response would have been different. But there was no meeting of the president with retirees, no advance warning, no grandfathering and no discussion. This is not the Mount we knew for decades.
Many of our retirees, especially those facing exorbitant medical expenses, will be hit hard by this sudden loss of a key benefit. We anticipate many of our hourly personnel will postpone upcoming retirement plans due to this change. They hesitate to express publicly their anxiety and concern. Other cost cutting measures should have been implemented before burdening retirees and current employees with healthcare cuts, such as the exorbitant costs of the new administrative (deans) structure and increase in the number of administrative positions exceeding the growth in students and faculty, both of which have so concerned faculty during the past decade. A single clause in the Governing Documents about eliminating or modifying policies should not be used to cover what is wrong and harms members of our community. It may be right legally but not morally. Business consultants may advise such strategies to deal with financial issues the Board and administrators should have been closely monitoring in the past decade. But our way of dealing with challenges must be consistent with the values and ethos of the Mount tradition and community. We ask that this retiree policy change be reconsidered in light of wider community involvement as required by our Governing Documents and the moral vision of the Mount. The Governing Documents very clearly state that “Faculty, administrators, and staff should be consulted on any policy changes in salaries/wages and benefits goals” (section 1.4.8). The procedures of our Governing Documents should always be followed to help insure fair Mission driven policies.
This semester there has been a praiseworthy emphasis on social justice at the Mount and the harms that can be inflicted on persons and communities. We have been called to respond to the criminal justice and refugee challenges. We should also apply social justice to our own institutional policies. The administration and its hired consultants need to attend very closely to this important aspect of Catholic Social Teaching regarding the content and process of policy making about our own community. This is necessary to continue the way of functioning of the Mount community we knew and loved.
We appreciate your listening to the perspective of retirees, which we each shall be someday.
Dr. Sue Goliber, Professor Emerita
Dr. Trudy Conway, Professor Emerita
Dr. William Collinge, Professor Emeritus
Editor’s Note: Dr. Goliber taught History at the Mount from 1978 to 2011.
Dr. Conway taught Philosophy at the Mount from 1979 to 2015.
Dr. Collinge taught Theology and Philosophy at the Mount from 1980 to 2015.