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Speaking Out

Retirement Program Changes

In response to your letter (Tax-Deferred Retirement Plan and Retiree Medical Program), I am disappointed, hurt and angry with the information sent to me. I believe your suggested changes to these programs to be a breach of contract between the University and its employees. Additionally, your deliberations are untimely and unjust for the reasons discussed below:

1. Your Task Force committed itself to altering retirees’ medical benefits before receiving the federal regulatory changes to Medicare, thus without definitive knowledge of the Government’s planned changes. Did it not occur to you before you started your deliberations that their changes might have a significant effect on how you might have to change the University’s programs—or even if these programs had to be changed at all? If you did not take that into consideration, you might have at least held off sending us your unpleasant news until you had a chance to review the government’s changes and integrate it with what your Task Force had to consider. What you have done is to put the wagon in front of the horse; and if the present regulatory changes (or others to come in the near future) are realistic in helping the people of our country, your Task Force might have been able to make changes in the University programs which in conjunction with those of Medicare would be equal to what the University promised us before we retired.

2. It is difficult to understand why the University is making changes some eight years after the 1996 retirement date mentioned in Almanac. How many of that group have died since then (I would guess at least half) and how many more in the next 5 years? Those of us who retired before 1996 now represent a fast-dying group of elders and thus a diminishing responsibility for the University’s promises to care for us. For that reason alone, I do not see the need for changes to be made. The bulk of retired employees worked hard for the University and kept their promise to be creative in teaching, research and service—the University should not break its promise to care for us at a time when we need its help and concern more than ever.

3. Relative to the last statement, I would like to give you a picture of what retirees of 70 years and older look like. Our bodies are breaking down and few of us escape chronic debilitating disease and none of us death. Unfortunately, our need for medical attention and drugs is vastly greater than for the younger working force that now is in attendance at the University (as was the case when I was part of the workforce from 1959-1996). The cost of drugs we are advised to purchase is unreal, often a single pill or tablet will cost anywhere from $3-12 and medical and hospital charges in general are “off the wall.” Dental charges (even at our University clinics) are excessive and for most of us are covered incompletely by insurance. Many of us do not have any dental insurance and bear the entire expense of dental work. Reconstructive dental work is a major necessity for our age group, which means we must spend $10,000-$20,000 a year to obtain it. I believe the majority of us are not employed or employable, which means we live on Social Security and whatever we put away for our retirement. Speaking for myself, I lost half of my retirement funds when the market fell in 2000. Local taxes are forever increasing and the cost of living continues to rise. It should be obvious that these years are not “the golden years” that we thought we would enter. Our group needs help and your proposed changes are adding to our burden, rather than making what is left of life easier.

4. Finally, if keeping the University’s promises to its retired employees is too much of a financial burden for the University to carry, consider that it will dwindle to nothing within a relatively short period of time with our inescapable deaths. Perhaps the University can look in other directions to resolve its fiscal problems—a good start would be to constrict the huge bureaucracy it continues to maintain.

Robert M. Schwartzman,
Emeritus Professor of Veterinary Dermatology

PS: I also would like to know if any retired faculty and/or staff were asked to serve as members of the Task Force? Also, did the Task Force invite retired employees to contribute information pertinent to its deliberations before the Task Force came to its final conclusions?

Response

Thank you for your thoughtful letter and observations regarding the Report of the Retiree Benefits Task Force published in Almanac regarding the Tax-Deferred Retirement Plan and Retiree Medical Program. The Comment Period is intended to seek feedback from retirees, faculty and staff regarding the proposals. At this point, reactions are being collected, compiled and analyzed by the Offices of the President and the Provost. We will take all comments received into account, and will respond to these later in the spring.

Janice R. Bellace, Associate Provost

 

 

High-Speed Network?

I imagine that I am not the only person noticing the antiquated network and e-mail service at Penn. While it is becoming common for people to send around 10 MB files for document sharing, our meager e-mail capacity remains at 15 MB. I spend a considerable amount of time fussing with my e-mail box when deluged with documents for large-scale projects. Several weeks ago it took me a full week to make a large document available to collaborators when a computer naïve person couldn’t just e-mail it around. Ancillary to this is the problem of basic Ethernet speed service delivered at 10Mb—a standard a decade old. It seems that it is high time that basic information infrastructure is updated to proactive standards.

—Junhyong Kim, Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn
Endowed Term Professor of Biology

Response

We thank Professor Kim for sharing his concern with us. He accurately identifies the challenge of offering sufficient incoming mailbox space for large e-mail files, while providing cost-effective service for the less demanding space needs of most users. As a member of the School of Arts and Sciences (SAS), Professor Kim uses SAS’s e-mail server, which has a 15 MB limit on the size of each user’s incoming mailbox. We understand and appreciate that this limit may present inconveniences to some users. 

To accommodate needs such as Professor Kim’s, SAS will install a major upgrade to mail.sas this summer, remedial activity already planned prior to receiving Dr. Kim’s letter. This upgrade will enable increases to both the processing capacity of mail.sas and to the size of the incoming mailbox for each user. It’s important to increase both, since the incoming mailbox must be scanned every time one of the 10,000+ users on mail.sas connects to check for new e-mail. Increasing only the size of the incoming mailbox without increasing the processing capacity would negatively impact the overall system performance.

ISC does offer network service at both standard 10Mb Ethernet and 100Mb Fast Ethernet, for all campus buildings in which ISC provides service to the wallplate.  Penn’s network traffic statistics indicate 10Mb is an excellent, cost-effective service for most common uses (including University applications, e-mail, and web surfing).  A better choice for large volumes of data and for high-end video use, Fast Ethernet service has a slightly higher monthly rate because the 100Mb connections use a larger share of campus network core bandwidth and Internet connectivity, which are both finite resources. 

The cost difference between 10Mb and 100Mb Ethernet has decreased over the past few years and we anticipate further future reductions. Monthly port rental/maintenance fees for 10Mb service will remain the same in 2006, and fees for 100Mb service will decrease approximately 25% in 2006.  For more information, visit www.upenn.edu/computing/isc/networking/rates/data/csf.html and www.upenn.edu/computing/isc/networking/rates/data/connections.html.

SAS believes the current pricing model provides incentive to selectively deploy 100Mb Fast Ethernet connections and has done so in departments, including Professor Kim’s department. SAS does not, and in fact can not, charge research grants for the additional charges for Fast Ethernet, and instead pays the charge using general operating funds. To the best of our knowledge, we have never denied a legitimate request for a higher speed connection.

Once again, we thank Professor Kim for sharing his concern, and we encourage anyone with a concern, comment, or idea to feel free to contact us. We believe the best way to identify needs is through collaboration and dialog with the entire Penn community.

—Ira Winston, IT Exec. Director, SAS

—Robin Beck, Vice President, ISC

 

 



 
  Almanac, Vol. 51, No. 28, April 12, 2005

ISSUE HIGHLIGHTS:

Tuesday,
April 12, 2005
Volume 51 Number 28
www.upenn.edu/almanac

 

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