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Danforth Staff voice concerns in Council Forum

and | Staff Writer and Contributing Writer

The Danforth Staff Council Fall Forum, held last Thursday, Nov. 2, in Knight Hall, announced the creation of a pathway for the potential renaming of buildings, changes to staff healthcare, and news from the recently created Office of Institutional Equity.

The meeting featured several high-profile speakers, such as the Associate Vice Chancellor of Institutional Equity, Chalana Scales-Ferguson; Director of Housing Operations and former Danforth Staff Council Chair, William Andrews; and the Senior Manager of Retirement and Tuition Plans, Justin Brasel.

Jessica Martsolf, the current Danforth Staff Council Chair, began the forum by reminding the university’s staff to maintain their own health, even during trying times.

“We’re all experiencing what’s happening in the world around us: large flawed systems, white supremacy, colonialism, capitalism, and ableism to name a few, are still very much at play and under-serving many populations,” Martsolf said, “We need to take the time to take care of ourselves and our loved ones. We aren’t robots.”

Chalana Scales-Ferguson took the stage next to describe the purpose of the Office of Institutional Equity.

“[The Office of Institutional Equity] aims to promote an equitable and inclusive working, learning, and living environment for the Washington University campus community, and the robust educational and employment engagement opportunities and services designed to bolster policies, processes, and practices having an impact on the employee experiences,” Scales-Ferguson said. 

Scales-Ferguson further specified that the Office of Institutional Equity centers around three pillars: education and engagement, compliance, and investigation and conflict. The investigation and conflict division works closely with Human Relations and deals with the discrimination and harassment policy.

Next to speak were Russel Osgood, Dean of Washington University School of Law, and William Andrews, past Danforth Staff Council Chair, both of the Committee to Examine Remembrance and Commemoration. This committee was charged with creating a procedure for potentially renaming Washington University buildings.

“The issue that arises is what do you do when you find out or focus on the fact that this person [the building is named after] engaged in noxious activities during their life?” Osgood said. 

This committee was formed to create the procedures for a new committee that will actually handle building renaming and contextualization. The complete procedures can be found on the Committee to Examine Remembrance and Commemoration website, however, there is one notable feature.

“Anyone could make a report, but you have to have some kind of evidence to support,” Osgood said, “It isn’t just the chancellor.”

WashU is not the first to implement this strategy. Other higher education facilities, such as John Hopkins University, Stanford University, Yale University, and the California Institute of Technology, have undergone similar proceedings.

“We had a research subcommittee examine about 17 peer institutions on how they handle the renaming spaces on their campus,” Andrews said.

Senior Manager of Retirement and Tuition Plans, Justin Brasel, took to the stage to discuss changes to staff benefits and costs for 2023 and beyond. Brasel immediately addressed the misconception that staff and faculty get vastly different benefits.

“One thing that we thought was really important to point out is that WashU faculty and staff, generally speaking, have the same benefits,” Brasel said, “That’s one misnomer that we often hear…There are a few minor differences…and that’s, generally speaking, due to the time that the faculty is working, the length of their employments.”

Brasel stated that, in addition to Human Resources and university leadership reviewing benefits each year, WashU engages in an industry comparison of their benefits every three years. 

“Our peer group has about 25 peers, and they’re made up of like institutions, like Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Duke, but we also pull in some local companies as well,” Brasel stated, “We try to maintain an average score across our peer group, and the last time that we benchmarked our plans, we ranked between 11th and 12th within our peer group.”

There were many new enhancements to WashU’s staff benefits, all of which can be seen on the Human Resources website, but notable ones include a new Gender Dysphoria Advocacy Resource and the elimination of the six months new hires must wait before gaining access to sick time.

Brasel was sure to note how proud Human Resources was of the university’s healthcare expenses and benefits. WashU’s cost share for healthcare is 83% paid for by the university and 17% paid for by the employee.

“We’re really proud of our health care expenses and our plans,” Brasel said, “The coverages are really really great, really really competitive, and our premiums are traditionally lower than our peer group as well.”

However, added benefits come with added costs, especially as healthcare costs have risen across the board in recent times. To combat this, the university is introducing an additional healthcare payment plan.

“Health care expenses have really skyrocketed over the past year across the industry; to help offset that we’ve added a third tier where highly compensated employees are gonna pay a little bit more for their premiums, ” Brasel said.

Scot Bemis, Vice Chancellor for Human Resources & Institutional Equity, joined Brasel for the Q&A of the presentation. Bemis described how WashU balances employee rewards and costs.

“The cost to the university for total rewards, both benefits and compensation, is the largest cost to the university, it’s huge,” Bemis said, “And then if things get costly enough, we look to say: ‘Well, yep, this is important to have, what are we going to get rid of?”

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