Casteen holds final employee charter briefing
University President John T. Casteen, III, held the sixth and final University charter initiative briefing before a crowd of faculty, staff and students in the Special Collections Library Auditorium yesterday afternoon. Casteen addressed common concerns with and objections to the charter initiative at the briefing and took related questions.
Casteen first pointed out the notion held by some critics that "tuition prices will go through the roof" if the charter is passed, but stressed that University tuition projections are lower than those of institutions which are not part of the charter initiative. He said past tuition increases have been driven by the General Assembly's legislative actions.
Casteen quoted many statistics showing the Commonwealth's shortfalls in higher education funding in the past and noted that legislators often have other priorities to allocate state funds -- namely transportation issues and K-12 education.
"There is an understanding [for legislators] for the need of the state to have flagship institutions," he said. "There's also an understanding that they cannot afford it."
Casteen also addressed concerns that the University will abandon its "Access U.Va." financial aid program that targets students from low and middle-income families, but ensured that a firm commitment to the program is written in the charter agreement.
"All I can say is that you cannot do better than to meet 100 percent of financial need," he said, regarding Access U.Va.
Casteen then discussed employee compensation. The charter plan would give the Board of Visitors power to set base salaries for faculty and staff. He added that the Commonwealth has repeatedly failed to meet targets for University employees' salaries.
Because of funding shortfalls, faculty members have lost cumulatively, on average, $60,000 in salary since 1990. This has resulted in a $300 million loss to the Charlottesville/Albemarle economy. Classified employees have lost on average over $25,000 since 1990 -- roughly a year's wages, Casteen said.
Faculty and staff members raised questions about salaries and benefits at the briefing.
Joe Grace, a maintenance employee in the University Housing Division, expressed worry over job security and rising health insurance costs. He said most of his 3 percent pay raise this year has been eaten up by costs.
Leonard Sandridge, University executive vice president and chief operating officer, answered Grace's question without an explicit guarantee of job security.
"The 'Workforce Transition Act' will apply to anyone currently employed by the University," Sandridge said, referring to 1995 legislation benefiting workers leaving state employment. He added that the University refuses to use staff layoffs to balance its budget despite pressure from lawmakers to do so.
He said the Board does not currently have control to set base pay for classified employees, but that Grace's pay raise would have been greater if the Board did.
Civil Engineering staff member Brad Sayler said he was upset at the charter's "cautiously worded phrases" and pushed for greater benefit and job security promises in writing.
In response, Casteen said he would speak with the Board and invited Sayler to do so as well.