Columns

Tennis ’14: Tuition assistance shows appreciation for faculty

By
Opinions Columnist

Last year, I wrote a column about one benefit of being a Brown employee: child care (“Take care of day care,” Sept. 25, 2012). Specifically, I wrote about the lack of institutionally sponsored child care at Brown for University faculty and staff members with young children. My article was prompted by the closure of the Taft Avenue Daycare Center, the only full-time center to care for children of faculty and staff members, and the unfortunate unwillingness of the University to found a new center.

Yet I was pleased and heartened when, after a lengthy review of the employee child care benefit package this past June, the University announced its decision to subsidize employee child care. The creation of the subsidy demonstrates administrators’ awareness that a child care provision is important to attracting the best faculty and staff — its existence portrays Brown as an employer that appreciates the importance of a balance between work life and family. Indeed, Provost Mark Schlissel P’15 said, “Offering an income-adjusted child care subsidy aligns with our commitment to being an employer of choice and acknowledges the needs of families with young children.”

On numerous occasions, Schlissel has spoken about the importance of hiring new faculty members with energy and innovative ideas. His statement shows that he recognizes the relationship between providing beneficial child care options and attracting young faculty members. But he’s forgotten another important facet of the package — tuition assistance for their children.

Actually, he hasn’t forgotten, but he doesn’t seem to understand the significance of refusing to offer a more substantial tuition assistance program. Right now, TAP provides $10,000 per child. Administrators chose that figure in 2002 to represent 36 percent of Brown’s tuition. But as Brown’s tuition has continued to rise, the TAP fund amount has held constant. It’s not only 12 percent lower proportionally to tuition this year than in 2002, it is also shockingly uncompetitive with offerings at peer institutions. In a comparison with 19 other schools, Brown’s TAP is third to last. Despite the University’s recent move to index TAP benefits — or increase assistance at the same rate as tuition — TAP offerings remain dismal. And under this indexing policy, Brown’s TAP will remain at 24 percent of tuition. Within the Ivy League, the University is only beating Harvard and Dartmouth in terms of TAP offerings. Seriously? We can do better.

Tuition assistance is a significant draw for the very best faculty. Yes, child care may seem like a more immediate issue for young parents, but the promise of having money to send a kid to college is a more unique selling point than providing day care alone. Any employer can offer child care packages — though the dearth of such options in this country continues to appall me — but an employer providing tuition assistance demonstrates not only an appreciation of employees’ needs, but also their children’s needs many years down the road.

In a way, offering a competitive TAP symbolizes recognition of the power of the faculty’s children to excel far off in the future, and such recognition communicates a much deeper appreciation to potential employees of their needs and desires as people. Providing child care options does, of course, fulfill an important need. But the need it fills is more concerned with allowing the employee to do good work — and spend more time working, surely — because that employee doesn’t have to be worrying about watching his or her child, carting that child between caregivers or other related matters. Instead, the provision of a competitive TAP suggests that the University values its employees at a deeper level, one not concerned with their capacity to work in the present.

Schlissel has argued against substantially increasing Brown’s TAP. His excuse lies in the assertion that the University simply doesn’t consider TAPs to be a main attraction for new faculty members. I’d like to see some evidence to support that argument. Did the provost conduct interviews of existing faculty members or potential hires and conclude that raising the percentage of tuition assistance was not a significant desire? If so, I’d urge him to make the community aware of such evidence. Doing so might address the general disgruntlement among current faculty members, voiced in the most recent faculty meeting, that the TAP remains low while inflation persists and tuition grows steeper.

The focus does not necessarily need to be on raising the TAP to its initial 36 percent level, but more increase is required if Brown wishes to continue to portray itself as an “employer of choice.” I recommend establishing some sort of endowment that provides funding for employee benefits from which money could be drawn to support a TAP increase. Ultimately, I’d like to echo Professor of Religious Studies and East Asian Studies Harold Roth P’17, chair of the Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, who expressed his wish that the University be “more creative” in finding sources of funding.

I can think of at least one way that would allow TAP to represent a larger percentage of Brown’s tuition: lower tuition.

 

 

Maggie Tennis ’14 is considering a career in academia, but examples of maltreatment of faculty by universities is making her question this decision.