The University of Oklahoma (Norman campus)
Regular session – April 14, 2008 – 3:30 p.m. – Jacobson Faculty Hall 102
office: Jacobson Faculty Hall 206   phone: 325-6789
e-mail:   web site:


The Faculty Senate was called to order by Professor Steve Bradford, Chair.


PRESENT:       Albert, Apanasov, Basic, D. Bemben, M. Bemben, Benson, Bradford, Brown, Brule, Callard, Clark, Conlon, Croft, Edy, Forman, Franklin, Ge, Grasse, Horn, Knapp, Livesey, Magnusson, Marcus-Mendoza, McDonald, C. Miller, Milton, Miranda, Morrissey, Moses, Radhakrishnan, Reeder, Riggs, Roche, Rogers, Russell, Sadler, Schmidt, Skeeters, Tan, Trafalis, Trytten, Veil, Verma, Vitt, Warnken, Weaver

ISA representatives:  Cook

ABSENT:         Bass, Eodice, Greene, Halterman, Kershen, Rambo, Striz






Darwin 2009

Committee A workshop

Health insurance

Senate Chair's Report:

Retiree plaques

4+4 login

Pre-finals week

Concealed weapons bill


Honor Council

Preliminary nominations for councils/committees/board

Grading scale







The Faculty Senate Journal for the regular session of March 10, 2008 was approved.





Several OU departments are sponsoring a series of events throughout 2009, called “Darwin 2009,” to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of Origin of Species.  Other departments and faculty are invited to participate.  For further information, contact Prof. Wayne Riggs (Philosophy),, or see


A Committee A workshop on dealing with disruptive individuals will be held on April 18.  For more information, contact Rachel Meyer in the provost office,





Human Resources Director Julius Hilburn said it was his pleasure to provide an update on the process to evaluate proposals for medical and dental insurance options that will start in January 2009 for employees and retirees.  He introduced Assistant Director Nick Kelly, Marcy Fleming from the Human Resources staff, and Prof. Darryl McCullough (Mathematics), Chair of the Employment Benefits Committee and member of the proposal review committee. 


Last year, a recommendation was made that the University should go to the marketplace every 3 to 4 years to get proposals for medical and dental benefits.  A request for proposals was sent out in December 2007 for medical and dental benefit plans, for a vendor to administer our Flexible Spending Account, and for benefits programs for retirees.  In looking at the proposals that were submitted, several factors were taken into consideration:  pricing, networks, plan designs, and programs that encourage wellness and provide support for major illness or injury.  Responses were received for medical from Aetna, BlueCross BlueShield and United HealthCare.  To cover a plan like ours, there are not a lot of viable options.  We received proposals for Medicare retirees from the same three vendors and Humana.  For dental, we received proposals from Aetna and BlueCross BlueShield and also from Delta Dental, which was our carrier until about four years ago, and MetLife.  The evaluation committee made a first cut and chose to negotiate further with Aetna, BlueCross BlueShield and United HealthCare for medical and retiree benefits and with Aetna, BlueCross Blue Shield and Delta Dental for dental benefits.  MetLife was eliminated for dental because its network was not broad enough.  Humana was eliminated for retiree medical because it submitted only one type of retiree medical product.  A lot of steps are involved in obtaining and evaluating proposals.  The evaluation committee is made up of employees with experience in wellness and health care economics and includes good representation of faculty and staff from all three campuses.  The committee has had three meetings so far and hopes to have a final evaluation and recommendation in mid May.  The committee asked for and received the best and final proposals from the bidders, but active negotiation is still going on.  Prof. Hilburn said he could not share the details about pricing while the University was negotiating with the vendors.


In evaluating pricing, we are interested not only in pricing for the first year but over a three-year period.  It is not in our best interest to get the lowest price for one year if it spikes the next year.  We want consistency in price and to minimize disruptions for employees that occur with a change in insurance providers.  Vendors base their rates on the University’s claims experience.  We have received good, aggressive pricing from the vendors, and there is good competition for our business.  The committee is working through some network issues.  Aetna’s network, which has been developed over the last four years, offers fairly comprehensive coverage, but there are some gaps.  BlueCross BlueShield has a pretty broad network, close to what Aetna provides for the PPO benefit.  There are some gaps, though, particularly in the HMO product.  Norman Regional Hospital is in the PPO but not the HMO network; HR is encouraging the parties to include NRH.  In Tulsa, St. John and St. Francis hospitals are not in the BlueCross BlueShield HMO network.  HR is working with the Tulsa administration to look at alternatives.  United HealthCare includes those hospitals in its HMO network, but the PPO network is a little smaller than the other two.  Another consideration in the evaluation is customer service:  how do they address employee problems, what level of service do they provide, and how responsive are they to HR.  With four years of experience with Aetna, we know what they do well and what they struggle with.  An advantage for BlueCross BlueShield is that customer service is provided in Oklahoma, so access would be more direct.  Location in itself, however, does not determine whether customer service is good or bad.  Other factors are the nature, quality, and responsiveness.  All the vendors were asked to submit proposals based on the level of benefits we currently have, and all said they could provide the same level.  We are not proposing any significant changes in the plan design.  A recommendation was made that the University needs to do more and invest more in employee wellness programs and maybe provide some incentives to encourage healthier life styles.  All of the vendors were asked to include wellness programs, such as smoking cessation, walking or other exercise programs, and nutrition, and to partner with OU. 


In the last meeting, there was a lot of discussion about comparing the private insurance companies with the state’s HealthChoice plan that is administered by OSEEGIB.  For several reasons, the evaluation committee and Employment Benefits Committee decided not to wait for the state to come out with its plan in August before making a recommendation.  The state did add a national network but priced it 50 percent higher than its in-state PPO.  The committee does not think the state will have any significant price advantage, and the rates historically have been higher for dependents.  The state is not able to provide multiple year guarantees.  Decisions about plan design are based on the overall group.  The plan has some wellness initiatives but nothing beyond what we could do on our own.  OU would rather make its decision in the May/June timeframe, rather than wait until August, to allow six months to plan for and manage communication and implementation. 


The next steps in the RFP process are to address some network issues, complete the pricing negotiations, and clarify the remaining plan design issues.  Mr. Hilburn will give status reports to the other governance groups.  The committee expects to have the best and final bids from the vendors by the committee’s May 9 meeting and will make a recommendation.  Then the Employment Benefits Committee will make its recommendation on May 15.  The plan is to have the final recommendation on the June regents’ agenda, as opposed to what has happened in the past: waiting until the September regents’ agenda. 


Prof. Bradford asked if there would be enough information by the May 5 Faculty Senate meeting.  Mr. Hilburn said he did not expect a further update until the committee meets on May 9.  Prof. Bradford mentioned that OSU went with BlueCross BlueShield this year.  He asked if we could learn anything from their experience.  Mr. Hilburn replied that OSU was self insured, then went with the state plan for many years, and just changed to BlueCross BlueShield.  They have had some transition issues but seem pleased with their decision.  However, it is a transition, and one should never minimize the impact of changing vendors.  For example, there could be some differences in networks and drug costs. 


Prof. Radhakrishnan asked whether the analysis of previous claims had shown that our experience had gone up.  Mr. Hilburn said our claims experiences have continued to increase.  The vendors who bid on our business look at our actual claims experience and then decide what they are going to propose.  Prof. Livesey said he thought the new pricing structure was aimed at making the pool more representative.  He said he realized that the plan probably had not been in place long enough.  Mr. Hilburn explained that changing the contribution strategy was to make coverage for dependents more affordable and to increase the number of employees who cover dependents.  Mr. Kelly reported that there was a seven or eight percent increase in the number of people who enrolled dependents in January, which is a net of close to 100 dependents.  Mr. Hilburn said we wanted to reduce the number of people who leave the plan; this year we had a net addition of employees who chose dependent coverage.  The group that just enrolled will not show up in the claims experience until the second half of this year.  We are not getting any benefit yet in terms of the proposals submitted, but we would expect an improvement over time.


Prof. Livesey asked whether the prescription drug plan was part of the negotiation.  He said co-pays for generic drugs are sometimes 80 percent of the actual cost.  A lot of insurers are changing to expensive high tech drugs that have a 20-30 percent co-pay, which prices them out of most people’s use.  Mr. Hilburn replied that we are not looking at any significant change in the co-pay structure for prescription drugs.  Our approach is a dollar amount co-pay.  Some plans introduce a percentage of the cost as a way to control costs.  The proposals we have received mimic our current plan design.  There could be some differences in what drugs are on the formulary and some pricing differences from one vendor to another.


Prof. Moses asked whether any consideration had been given, when discussing wellness, to some sort of premium differential for smokers versus non-smokers.  Mr. Hilburn said a committee had been formed to look at wellness.  Professors Bob Dauffenbach from the Norman campus and Gary Raskob from the HSC are co-chairs of the committee.  The committee quickly concluded that wellness initiatives should be done with incentives as opposed to penalties.  Rather than conditional premiums for smokers, the committee is looking at adding smoking cessation benefits.  The members also are investigating whether we could offer other incentives, for example, rebates or merchandise, within our budget for health care.  Prof. Moses asked whether OSU’s decision to go non-smoking in July would reduce health care costs and whether OU was considering such a plan.  Mr. Hilburn said HR was not involved in an active review of that issue.  A non-smoking campus does reduce costs over time.  Last year, we added some smoking cessation benefits, including nicotine replacement and behavior modification, to help people quit smoking.  Before that, we would tell employees they should quit smoking, but we did not have any benefits to support that.  Prof. Marcus-Mendoza noted that the University of Texas has a lot of programs right on campus, which makes wellness more accessible.  She asked whether the committee was considering programs that an employee could pay for but would be more accessible.  Mr. Hilburn said the committee was looking at a whole range of options and might need to establish some priority.  We cannot do everything at once and likely will have some funding constraints.  The committee has focused so far on communication, exercise, nutrition, testing, and health risk assessments.  Helping people understand and manage measurements such as weight and cholesterol level can reduce the risk of diabetes, heart problems, and other conditions.  So initially the committee has focused on programmatic issues and communicating what we already offer in ways that will encourage people to take advantage of existing programs, for example, the boot camp offered at Huston Huffman and programs at the HSC and Tulsa. 


Prof. Apanasov commented that Aetna only covers an annual physical exam once every two years.  He asked whether that policy might change.  Mr. Hilburn said the bidders were asked to mimic the coverage that we currently have.  Sometimes the benefit available is a function of the age of the participant.  Mr. Kelly said he thought all of the proposals offered a checkup every two years.  Mr. Hilburn pointed out that if there is any indication of a problem, a patient can have a further review and not have the exam treated as routine.


Mr. Miller remarked that smokers cost more in terms of health insurance.  We should consider adjusting premiums as an incentive to quit smoking and so non-smokers would not feel as though they are subsidizing people who choose to smoke.  Mr. Hilburn responded that a premium difference is in some plans but not many.  Our philosophy is to provide incentives, not penalties.  Also, there is the issue of certifying the non-smoking status.  It may evolve to that, but there is not a lot of sentiment among the various committees to impose a surcharge.  There are rules against having discriminatory features in a plan.  Prof. Miller argued that it should be phrased that we would charge less for non-smokers.  Prof. Bradford responded that if we hire somebody who smokes, we would be adding something else into the hire: that they will pay more and this campus is unfriendly to smoking.  Prof. Miller replied that we should say they will pay less if they stop.  Prof. Bradford agreed that we should encourage them to stop smoking, but he said he did not want to tell his colleagues who smoke that they would have to pay more.  Prof. Miller said his colleagues do not want to subsidize people who smoke.  Mr. Hilburn said he would share this position with the committees.  Prof. Vitt asked if there was actually verifiable, quantitative evidence that the kind of incentive program that the committee is suggesting works.  He said businesses are considering incentives that will get people to quit smoking and that will feed back positively across health care.  Mr. Hilburn responded that there is evidence that certain incentives generate changes in employee behavior.  Prof. Bradford added that the wellness committee should seek evidence about the programs that actually work.  Mr. Hilburn reiterated that the wellness committee is looking at evidence-based changes, so the group will look at the data and at alternatives.  Prof. Miller said his point was that referring to it as higher premiums was framing it as a penalty.  It could be framed as an incentive by saying individuals could save money by quitting smoking.  Prof. Bemben asked, “Why stop at smoking?”  If someone is overweight or not exercising, should we add higher premiums for them too?  Mr. Hilburn said that is why the first step is the encouragement approach as opposed to a difference in premiums.


Prof. Forman asked about the status of retiree health benefits.  Mr. Hilburn explained that one of the recommendations of the health care options committee was that the issue of retiree medical benefits was so complicated that the committee needed additional time to make recommendations.  The guiding principles are to make sure that we can sustain and support the valuable retiree medical benefits that we offer and that any recommendation should not motivate people to retire any earlier than they normally would have in order to preserve a benefit.  One recommendation that was made last year and has been implemented is anyone hired on or after January 1, 2008 has a different retiree medical eligibility than current employees.  Something needed to change long term in our retiree medical benefits, and we had to draw a line somewhere.  The committee is not focused on anything that would change the benefit levels for current retirees, employees who are eligible to retire or employees who are relatively close to retirement.  The committee thinks individuals who are several years away from retiring have some ability to react to changes that might occur.  To define “relatively close” the committee is looking at data to determine if there is a natural point to draw the line.  Any transitions that are made should be gradual.  After meeting several times, the committee still does not have a final recommendation.  The members have reviewed competitive practices; they have looked at retiree medical benefits at Big 12 universities and peer groups.  They also have been looking at funding requirements, long-term benefit design and funding alternatives.  Twenty percent of our employees will meet the age and service requirements to retire within five years.  Within 15 years, half of our employees will meet the age and service requirements to retire.  This year we will spend about $6 million on retiree medical benefits, or about 10 percent of our total cost of medical benefits.  Over the next 5 to 6 years, the figure could double to $12 million and double again in another 5 to 6 years.  As a percentage of our overall medical cost, retiree medical is going up at a much higher rate than the other components.  A new accounting requirement was imposed this year that requires public sector employers to provide an estimate of the cost of the post-retirement medical benefit obligation.  OU’s is more than $500 million and growing.  The committee looked at several scenarios aimed at managing the cost while sustaining the benefits.  No plan has already been agreed to or recommended besides the eligibility of people hired after January 1, 2008.  Before the members make any recommendations, they will share their thinking with the campus community and solicit comments and suggestions.  Prof. Forman asked whether there was a legal opinion as to what OU can and cannot do.  Mr. Hilburn said plan sponsors can modify benefit plans, so we have the flexibility as an organization to make changes in benefits going forward.  However, we are sensitive to the impact of potential changes on people.  There will be no rate increases in programs other than medical and dental.



SENATE CHAIR'S REPORT, by Prof. Steve Bradford


Prof. Bradford reminded the senators that the Faculty Senate office has taken on the responsibility of having plaques prepared for faculty who retire.  He said the retirees really appreciate the plaques.  Unfortunately, sometimes it is difficult to get descriptions for the plaques from the units.

The Information Technology office is in the process of changing the 4+4 login.  Many systems are affected, so IT is testing the new login with some volunteer groups.  The change is expected to be made in the summer.

The Student Association passed a resolution asking the Faculty Senate to change the policy in the Faculty Handbook regarding pre-finals week.  Currently, no projects worth more than 10 percent should be due in pre-finals week.  The students want to change it to 5 percent and to eliminate special case deviations.  There is no time to go through the whole approval process and have a new policy in place for the fall.  Therefore, the Executive Committee decided to ask the senators to discuss the proposal with their constituents and decide whether the Faculty Senate should have its own resolution.  Prof. Marcus-Mendoza asked for an explanation of the special case deviations.  Prof. Bradford responded that if faculty members have a special circumstance in which they need to have a larger assignment due the last week of classes, they can state that in their syllabus.  The students want to do away with that and change the 10 percent to 5 percent.  Prof. Apanasov said it would be like eliminating the last week.  Prof. Bradford pointed out that OSU has a policy of 5 percent, and no student or campus organizations can have functions during that week.  Prof. Miller remarked that students really are asking to push forward assignments.  Prof. Bradford said that was a good point; however, the resolution has passed and was presented to the Faculty Senate for consideration.  This issue will be discussed at the next meeting.

During Spring Break, Prof. Bradford asked the senators to vote by e-mail on a resolution requesting the state legislature to reconsider a bill that would allow people to carry concealed guns on campus.  The results were 42 voted, with 39 voting to approve the resolution, two voting no, and one abstaining.  So far, the bill has died in the Senate, but there still are attempts to bring it back as an amendment.  Prof. Bradford thanked the senators for their responses.  He said he would have preferred to have had a meeting and get input on the resolution, but the bill came up in between meetings.

President Boren has indicated that the budget is exceptionally tight and is not expected to get better the next two years.  The president still is committed to a salary increase, at most two percent.  A salary increase and other expenses would require a larger tuition increase than we would want.

Prof. Bradford said after listening to last month’s presentation of the student Honor Council, he read about an experiment on student honesty done at MIT.  Prof. Bradford concluded that it does good just to remind students to be honest.





The Senate Committee on Committees’ preliminary nominations for the end-of-the-year vacancies on university and campus councils, committees, and boards were distributed at the meeting and will be voted on at the May meeting.  Prof. Brown thanked the senators for volunteering and for nominating faculty for committees.  She said three full-time tenured faculty members were needed to serve four-year terms on the Faculty Appeals Board.





Prof. Benson asked for an update on the expanded grading scale.  Prof. Bradford said the regents were opposed to changing the system.  OSU decided not to go forward with such a plan.  As the new student grade system is put in place in fall 2009, faculty will enter plus/minus grades, but the plus and minus will not appear on the transcript.  With a year’s experience, we could go to the regents and say that student GPAs did not change.  Prof. Schmidt commented that a large body of research shows that plus/minus grading does not harm grades.  Prof. Bradford explained that the regents had heard from students who thought plus/minus grading would hurt their chances of getting into medical school.  If the president has to use a lot of political capital to get this approved, however, the faculty might want to reconsider.  Prof. Miller said the plus/minus grading would only hurt the students at the very top.  It could help the students below.  Prof. Bradford said the average student’s GPA should stay about the same.  Prof. Trytten noted that the students at the top tend to be the most vocal. 





Prof. Milton said he had received an email from the Graduate Student Senate chair about Pick-A-Prof.  The Student Association pays $8000 a year to subscribe to the service.  Pick-A-Prof is a web service that provides students access to the grade distribution of faculty and to comments that have been posted.  The Graduate Student Senate has some concerns and asked Prof. Milton to bring the issue up to the Senate for future consideration.  Prof. Bradford said he would ask the Provost.





The meeting adjourned at 4:58 p.m.  The next regular session of the Faculty Senate will be held at 3:30 p.m. on Monday, May 5, 2008, in Jacobson Faculty Hall 102.


Sonya Fallgatter, Administrative Coordinator


Roberta Magnusson, Secretary