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Tenure, health top faculty agenda

The first Academic Council meeting of the year Thursday featured significant updates to two items of perennial faculty interest--their health plans and the tenure committee.

Provost Peter Lange presented data to the council on tenure cases from the past year, while Executive Vice President Tallman Trask announced that health insurance co-payments would increase this year under increasing financial pressures.

The Appointment, Promotion and Tenure Committee reported last year's data concerning faculty tenure selections and assessed recent trends in promotions and reappointments.

Lange said the number of faculty members leaving the tenure track in their first four years at the University has declined over the last three years. He said one reason for the decline may be better hires, but he also acknowledged a greater willingness to reappoint new hires after their initial three-year evaluation period. Lange said it is difficult to assess assistant professors fairly after so little time because they may not have published their first major article.

"That two-and-a-half-year review is not incredibly meaningful," he said.

He remained confident, however, that the University was being appropriately selective with its tenure cases.

Departments nominated 18 total candidates for tenure last year, a significant decrease from recent years, Lange said. The APT committee then considered 16 candidates and recommended 14 to Lange, who granted tenure to 13.

Lange admitted the committee's 87.5 percent approval rate appeared high, but added that there is some variability in the committee from year to year. Only once last year did the APT committee's members unanimously reject a tenure candidate, a figure that has steadily decreased over the past three years.

"I take that to mean the departments are doing better," Lange said.

The changes to the health plans, proposed by the Faculty Compensation Committee, will include an increase in co-payments--the fees individuals must contribute to their health plans.

Trask announced the changes in the meeting's other major presentation, saying they were necessary to offset the increasing cost of drugs and the expansion of the University's health coverage. "We were looking at some very substantive increases [in premiums] if we didn't make some modest changes [to the plans]," he said.

The expansion of the health plans' coverage also contributed to the increased fees. Projections for 2003 estimate that 43,545 people will be covered by one of the University's plans, a 16 percent increase from 2000.

Trask said the increase is largely due to recent layoffs in the Triangle, which have caused more unemployed people to flock to the University's strong health plans. "Duke's plan remains significantly more beneficial than [other plans]," he said.

Trask also noted that prescription drug costs have risen dramatically over the last three years--he said the amount of money spent on drugs has increased from roughly $15 million in 1999 to a projected $26 million in 2003.

"Not surprisingly, the vast majority of the drug [price] increase is related to drugs you see on television," Trask said. "[The Duke health plan is] spending over $1 million on the little purple pill."

Trask said the two trends make the immediate future appear grim.

"We're very nervous that unless somebody at the federal level does something, we're going to have some very serious choices to make," he said. "I think Lois Ann [Green, director of benefits administration] and I are about to throw up our hands and say, 'We don't know what to do next.'"

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