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Fringe benefits for summer work explored

By Susan Trulove

Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 21 - February 22, 1996

The Commission on Research (COR) on Wednesday, Feb. 14, heard a plan for providing academic year (AY) faculty members with retirement income credit based on their summer earnings as well as AY salary.

Ernie Stout reported policies and procedures for calendar year (CY) research conversions that he and Pat Hyer had drafted at the request of the provost.

In Virginia, Stout said, the salary paid AY faculty members is considered an annual salary, and any income earned in the summer, from research, teaching, or continuing education, is considered wages. Since wages do not earn fringe benefits, faculty members do not receive credit toward retirement for summer earnings from VRS or other retirement plans.

Five years ago, Ed Henneke learned that U.Va. has a procedure for changing AY faculty status to CY status so that summer earnings include fringe benefits. Such a plan for Virginia Tech became an item on the College of Engineering's list of strategic objectives.

Although the college's objective was to base retirement on all earnings for all faculty and staff members, the proposal that is now before the governance system would count earnings from contracts and grants by full-time AY faculty members only. Some of the provisions of the plan are:

* To convert to CY status, a faculty member must have assurance of support from sponsored grants or contracts (or other sources) for two consecutive summers. Since two months is all the NSF will pay over the summer, two months is considered a full summer, Stout said. Teaching income is not included because there is no money for the additional cost of fringe benefits.

* The academic departments are responsible for the fringe costs related to salary charged to overhead. If a faculty member's sponsored funding does not materialize or is inadequate, the department will be responsible for the shortfall.

* The effective dates of AY to CY conversion are May 16 or July 1. The conversion must be approved one month prior to the effective date. Retroactive conversions will not be approved. Conversion from CY to AY will be effective August 16.

* Salary distribution must follow work assignment, i.e., whether the faculty member is 75 teaching and 25 percent research.

* Unused annual leave earned during the CY appointment will not be reimbursed at the end of the appointment. Other CY policies apply.

The commission tabled action while members check with their constituents and amendments are drafted. Joe Schetz suggested amendments to define what a "full summer" is, to shorten the minimum effective period to one year, and to remove language about "the allowability of the grant or contract."

Stout will discuss with Doug Martin whether VRS is likely to have any reservations about honoring the commitments to pay higher retirement salaries. Schetz pointed out that could happen if a faculty member is credited with a higher income based on two summers' income, and collects for 20 years.

The plan also has been presented to the Commission on Faculty Affairs.

In other business, the commission approved the new administrative arrangement for the Center for Survey Research and accepted the final review of the Center for Transportation Research.

Last spring, a review of the survey center determined it is no longer only a research center but performs administrative surveys of value to the university community. The new plan calls for it to remain an independent university center reporting to the associate provost for research. The College of Arts and Sciences will continue to support the faculty position of Alan Bayer within sociology. The Provost's Office will provide fiscal support to meet operational requirements and the center will work closely with the office of institutional research, particularly as it supports the upcoming SACS self-study.

Regarding the transportation research center, the commission's five-year review of the center, reported in April 1994, made seven recommendations chiefly concerned with the center's interaction with on-campus faculty members and the information flow to the academic departments. The review called for a re-review in two years, which has now been completed. It was noted that the center has addressed the earlier concerns. The commission thanked Ray Pethtel, who acted as interim director until the recent hiring of the new director, Tom Dingus. And the commission thanked Richard Alvarez for the business management, team building, and strategic planning he contributed as interim business manager. Another full review will take place in three years.

Dingus told the commission, "The center is in sound financial shape and has a bright and helpful staff. Faculty involvement could be improved." One way he will address that is through a fellows program.

He added that the center is going through another strategic planning process to determine which areas of transportation research the center will focus on.