Faculty assembly discusses tuition exchange policy, dependent care and retirement benefits


TPN File Photo

The Cathedral of Learning and William Pitt Union on campus.

By Donata Massimiani, Senior Staff Writer

Faculty Assembly president Robin Kear kicked off the first meeting of the academic year by reminding faculty that it’s time to start moving back into pre-pandemic expectations for their courses. 

“Be aware and remember that you’re not required to offer Zoom links to classes for students,” Kear said. “You’re not required to offer that as an alternative because we are focusing on in-person teaching, so that should not be an expectation.”

The Faculty Assembly voted on a draft policy on tuition exchange, reviewed the dependent care report and discussed improvements made to Pitt’s retirement investment package at their Wednesday afternoon meeting held both in person at room 2700 of Posvar Hall and over Zoom. 

Kear also announced that Joe Suyama, the new head of Pitt’s COVID-19 Medical Response Office, will address Pitt’s COVID-19 response at the Senate Council meeting on Sept. 15, and she reminded eligible faculty to cast their votes for who they want to sit on the committee conducting the Chancellor search

Sybil Streeter, an associate professor of psychology and co-chair of the student admissions, aid and affairs committee, presented the draft policy on tuition exchange that was approved by the SAAA committee in June. Streeter said this policy does not contain any new information and serves to clarify “some rules” of Pitt’s existing tuition exchange policy. 

Tuition exchange is a reciprocal scholarship program that allows dependent children of Pitt faculty and staff to apply for competitive scholarships to other participating member institutions, according to Pitt’s financial aid website. It also says on the website that the tuition exchange scholarship organization requires its member institutions to maintain a balance between the number of students enrolled at host institutions and the number of students enrolled at the home institution.

Streeter said one clarification made in the draft policy is that it’s now ensured that students who are actively receiving this scholarship can not have it revoked due to an unbalanced ratio of students coming to Pitt and students going elsewhere. She also said it clarifies that tuition exchange is not a guaranteed benefit, rather a scholarship opportunity that requires an application process, and that the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid has the authority to administer Pitt’s participation in the program. 

The Faculty Assembly unanimously voted to approve the draft policy on tuition exchange. 

Anna Wang-Erickson, an associate professor of pediatrics and chair of the dependent care ad-hoc committee, gave the dependent care report at the meeting. Dependent care is essential for scholarly and research productivity, attracting people to research and academia, as well as increasing diversity and the participation of women, according to Wang-Erickson. 

She said the wording of Pitt’s reimbursement policy, FN 28, prohibits reimbursements for dependent care, so the committee recommended a change to the policy that allows for those reimbursements. Wang-Erickson also said the committee submitted suggested wording to Pitt’s Office of Policy based on the University of California systemwide policy that allows for both internal and external funding to be used for dependent care reimbursements. 

Wang-Erickson said in Jan. 2022 the Office of the Chief Financial Officer announced that faculty may use external funding for dependent care expenses. The CFO office updated this guidance in August so people may now choose between using an external fund, such as a grant, or a partial reimbursement process through Care.com, according to Wang-Erickson. She added that a person may utilize both options for funding as long as they do not receive a reimbursement for more than they expensed. 

Tim Irvin, Pitt’s investment advisor with CAPTRUST, and Melissa Kluchurosky, the director of benefits in Pitt’s Office of Human Resources, presented the improvements made to Pitt’s retirement investment package, or retirement savings plan, which includes the introduction of a new target date fund. 

Irvin said a target date fund is the investments in the lineup, either Vanguard or TIAA, where one selects the year they wish to retire, and Vanguard or TIAA will do all of the money managing for that individual. 

“The way that target dates work today, for both TIAA and Vanguard, is they start with a higher equity allocation, and then as you move throughout your career and you age, they become more conservative because you have more financial capital at risk and less working capital or less years left,” Irvin said. “You want to make sure that you’re de-risking as you move on in your career.” 

Target date funds are popular because the “de-risking” is done automatically, according to Irvin. He said rather than someone having to adjust their allocation over time, Vanguard or TIAA will do it for them. Irvin added that they do not have anything that can help with guaranteed lifetime income. 

That’s where the enhancements of the fund come into play, according to Irvin. He said during the target date review it was decided to add a component that would create a lifetime income portion, and by putting it in a fixed account, it is also going to “substantially reduce volatility.” 

“We did what TIAA and Vanguard can’t do independently right now and we’re serving as a manager to insert this guaranteed component,” Irvin said. “Which again, helps participants de-risk and also helps them to create an opportunity to buy an annuity or to purchase lifetime income if they so choose when they get to age 65 or 70, or well beyond that if you want to keep working.”