COLUMBIA — About 16 people gathered Monday morning to express their dissatisfaction with recent changes to the University of Missouri System's retirement medical benefits. The MU chapter of the American Association of University Professors organized the protest.
The UM System Board of Curators voted April 14 to limit retirement medical benefits for 84 percent of eligible employees. The changes were recommended by the UM Total Rewards Advisory Committee, which determined that if the UM System continued to pay insurance subsidies based on its percentage subsidy system, it would have a $4.5 billion budget deficit by 2045.
Under the changes, a large portion of employees will receive a fixed annual subsidy instead of a larger, proportional one. New employees or employees with fewer than five years of service by the end of 2017 will not receive employee-sponsored retirement benefits at all. The UM System will continue paying up to 73 percent of monthly premiums for employees age 60 and older who have at least 20 years of service and those whose combined age and service add up to at least 80 years.
The group of protesters — comprised mostly of graduate student workers — gathered on Francis Quadrangle outside Jesse Hall. Rabia Gregory, associate professor of religious studies and a member of the MU AAUP chapter, addressed them.
"The biggest complaint is how this was handled," she said. "A task force met and issued recommendations, and there was almost no time for faculty and staff to provide any kind of feedback or alternate plan before this was voted in as a new policy."
Gregory said the way the decision was handled was not an example of shared governance — that is, shared responsibility among different parts of the institution. Advancing shared governance is part of the mission of the AAUP, and it is mentioned in the Collected Rules and Regulations as a structure within the university.
"A task force is not shared governance," Gregory said.
Gregory said that though there was a funding issue, faculty and staff shouldn't be the ones to "bear the brunt" of it.
Protesters then walked through the first floor of Jesse Hall while waving their signs in the windows of the offices of Interim Chancellor Hank Foley and Provost Garnett Stokes. They then walked to Speakers Circle, where Gregory spoke again and thanked the graduate students — who wore red shirts symbolizing their own fight for employees rights — for their support.
Coalition of Graduate Workers co-chair Eric Scott told the group it is important for graduate student employees and graduate students to stand with the faculty and others who have been wronged by administrators and the Board of Curators.
"An injustice to one of us is an injustice to all of us, so that's why it's important that we all work together and stand together," he said.
Will Allbritain, a graduate teaching assistant in the Department of Mathematics, expressed his support by performing "American Tune" by Paul Simon during the protest. He said later that he thought the song fit the feelings of the protesters.
Protesters mostly kept the volume down, particularly in and around Jesse Hall. Gregory told the group to stay quiet out of respect for students taking exams and the recent decision to enforce an established rule regarding disruptions in campus buildings.
Two police officers observed at least part of the protest from a distance.
"They're changing the way people feel they can speak on campus," Gregory said to reporters after the protest.
Gregory said this protest was not the end.
"We will be back here again and again and again until they reverse their decisions," she said.
This is not the first protest of changes to retiree benefits that has occurred on MU's campus. On April 15, about 10 people gathered in front of Jesse Hall to protest the curators' decision.
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.