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Q: What’s going on with benefits and compensation these days?

October 26, 2011

Health benefits, retirement planning and compensation

Q:  What’s going on with benefits and compensation these days?  

A: Largely in response to feedback from employees, there are many changes now being made to SU’s health benefits, wellness initiatives, retirement plans and compensation. Vice President for Human Resources and University Services Jerry Huffman has been walking employees through the changes at a series of open forum sessions. (The last session is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 28, noon-1 p.m., Sullivan Hall C6.) What follows is a recap of one of those sessions. 

Health benefits  

With Open Enrollment taking place Nov. 1-11, health insurance is at the forefront of many employees’ minds, and there are many new developments in this area. 

The university is changing its PPO provider from Regence Blue Shield to Premera Blue Cross.  “We selected Premera based on their ability to provide technology enhancements, customer service to faculty and staff, wellness initiatives and cost reductions,” Huffman said. “We also paid attention to network coverage. Premera covers 98 percent of those physicians in our current network. We’re confident this is a good decision we are making on behalf of our faculty and staff.” 

For Jan. 1, 2012, there will also be a change in premium costs. Currently the university pays 100 percent of premiums for employees who choose Employee Only coverage. As Huffman explained, “We’re going to move over a three-year time period to a structure that (will involve a) commitment from the university (to cover) 85 percent of the premium cost for (single coverage). Our peer group universities cover 80 percent now. Other institutions throughout the United States cover about this level. 

Family and dependent premium costs will decrease for most employees. On average, the university currently pays 57 percent of those costs; on Jan. 1, SU will pay, on average, 70 percent of those costs. 

The premiums employees will have deducted from their paychecks (pre-tax) will be “stratified based on pay level,” said Huffman. “We think this is just, we think this is aligned with who we are, our mission and our values. What this means is that people in lower pay levels in year one will pay even less than five percent. 

“I’m very happy that we’re at a point where we can respond to you in this way. I think it’s important that we listened. For the most part, faculty and staff will be paying less for family and dependent coverage.” 

The university’s ever-present goal is to get a handle on rising insurance costs that all employers are experiencing. As one possibility, Huffman indicated that the university might be adding another PPO option one year from now that has a lower premium but higher risk/deductible. 


The university is contracting with Limeade, a local company Huffman said has been used by Group Health, REI and other “forward-thinking companies and organizations.” Limeade is an online resource that provides assessments as well as incentives for wellness. We’ll have the chance to learn more about this program after January 1.  

The university is also looking at an onsite coaching initiative and opportunities to maximize the new wellness-supporting features of the new William F. Eisiminger Fitness Center. 

Huffman also announced that a healthcare and wellness committee will soon be forming, and he invited faculty and staff members to contact Matt Philip, compensation and benefits director, at, if they are interested in serving as members. 

Retirement Planning  

No change will be made this year to the university’s contribution to employee retirement plans, Huffman said. However there are some new developments, many having to do with new Department of Labor regulations that hold the university more accountable for its employees’ retirement plans. 

“We are now being required to do some of the things that a lot of public companies have been doing for some time in terms of the fiduciary requirements to manage those types of plans that we present to you as participants,” Huffman said.  

As one change, the university is moving to a single record-keeper system. (TIAA-CREF and Fidelity current serve in this role.) The transition is expected to “save participants a lot of money in terms of the costs in your plan,” Huffman said. 

The university has also formed the Retirement Plan Investment (RPIC) Committee “to ensure we get the best performance from our plan.” The committee is now looking into developing a better array of investment opportunities for employee participants. Currently, there are more than 300 choices, and many underperform. Huffman expects the number to be pared down to something on the order of 30 investment choices that perform well. 


Huffman reminded the audience of the $500,000 increase allocated for market adjustments for the current year. This is part of the five-year commitment on the part of the university to increase compensation by $5.6 million as part of the strategic priority of investing in the excellence of SU faculty and staff. 

Last year, the university did a study to benchmark salaries against the market. For staff, this applied to the 35 or 40 percent of positions that could readily be benchmarked to market. To evaluate the salary structures of the remaining positions and to prepare for annual performance assessments, all positions descriptions are currently being reviewed. “This is a critical step for many reasons – most importantly to make sure managers assess their staff’s performance based on current understanding of roles and responsibilities.” The process of collecting staff descriptions is 75 percent complete. Staff performance assessments are slated for January and February. At the same time,  the descriptions will be used to place staff jobs in new pay classifications that are aligned with the market. 

Faculty and staff will be eligible for a base increase effective July 1, 2012. (The percentage has yet to be determined.) On top of that, staff will be considered for merit pay raises based on two factors—their performance and their pay relative to market. That is, if a staff person who is performing very well and is being paid below the market, they will be eligible for a higher percentage raise. From July 1, 2013 onward, the expectation is that all increases will be merit-based. Faculty salaries already operate under a merit-based system. 

For more information, visit

Q: Is the Vachon Gallery really spelled with a “c?”

October 11, 2011

Vachon Gallery

Q:  Is the Vachon Gallery really spelled with a “c?” 

A:  Yes, while the similarly spelled nearby island might tempt some to substitute an “s” for the “c,” “Vachon” is absolutely correct when it comes to referring to the gallery in the Fine Arts building.  

So who is the room named for? Our thanks go to Steve Galatro for providing this background information: 

“The Vachon Gallery, originally called the Vachon Room, was named in honor of Hayden A. Vachon, S.J. (1906-1972), who was professor, chair of the Arts Department and the inspiration for the Fine Arts Building. A man of vision and dedication, Father Vachon (left) is fondly remembered for his “eke box” in which he collected spare change from students and campus visitors. His dream was to build one day a home for the Fine Arts at Seattle University.  

“For many years, the Hayden A. Vachon S.J. Room was home to theatre productions. These productions were eventually relocated to the Lee Center for the Arts and in 2009, the Vachon Room received an all-white makeover in preparation for its rebirth as a dedicated art gallery. Now referred to as the Vachon Gallery, the energetic space has exhibited a mix of student, faculty and guest artist exhibitions. The faculty-curated gallery has quickly emerged as a dynamic facility for artistic study and practice. The spirit of Father Vachon lives on.”  

By the way, if you haven’t already checked it out, be sure to visit the Vachon and Kinsey galleries for a very moving exhibit, Our Children, Our Voices, which features works by Somali teens.

Q: What do you call that thing that’s located to the right of the water fountains in the Fitness Center?

September 27, 2011

The water fountain's strange buddy

Q:  What do you call that thing that’s located to the right of the water fountains in the Fitness Center? 

A:  SU’s brilliant, new William F. Eisiminger Fitness Center houses world-class weights and cardio equipment, spacious accommodations for classes like yoga and zumba, modern and attractive locker rooms, incredible pieces of artwork and a sweeping view of Championship Field.  

And then of course, there’s that stainless steel contraption we often see paired with a drinking fountain—what is that thing called, anyway?  

Well, it actually has a very dignified-sounding name: “cuspidor.” Its purpose is perhaps less dignified, but very important, nonetheless. "Essentially, a cuspidor is a place for an individual to spit, which is separate from the water fountain for sanitary reasons,” explains Derek Hottell, director of University Recreation. “Because individuals may build excessive saliva while exercising and/or want to rinse their mouth with water, but not swallow, fitness facilities normally have these. We have them in the Fitness Center and the existing Connolly Center also has several stationed throughout the building.” 

Hottell says that technically you could also refer to the unit as a “spittoon.” But that wouldn’t be very dignified, would it?

Q: What is the plural of “woonerf?”

September 13, 2011

Woonerf coming soon to SU

Q: What is the plural of “woonerf?”  

A: Whoa, whoa, whoa...before we get to the plural of “woonerf,” maybe we should start with what exactly a “woonerf” is and what it has to do with Seattle University. “Woonerf” is a Dutch term for a place where pedestrians and cyclists rule over automobiles, although all are part of the action. A good example, says Patrick Donohue, senior project coordinator in planning and development for Seattle Parks and Recreation, is the street activity at Pike Place and Post Alley, where there’s a mix of foot and car traffic surrounding the Pike Place Market.   

So, why is this relevant to SU? Well, a “woonerf” will soon be created near the new Douglas Building. (Oh, and in case you were still interested, the plural of “woonerf” is, get this, “woonerven.”) 

Q: Who will have access to the new Fitness Center?

August 17, 2011

Fitness Center membership

Q:  Who will have access to SU's new Fitness Center?

A:  The current membership policies for the Connolly Center will apply to the Fitness Center. As a quick summary, faculty and staff will continue to enjoy free membership in the center, as will their legally domiciled adults (LDAs) and dependents.


Q: How many free cups of coffee or tea did Bon Appétit dispense to faculty and staff for last summer's Free Coffee Mondays? 

June 29, 2011

Free Coffee Monday

Q:  As we all know, one of the great perks of working at SU during the summer is Free Coffee Monday (along with Early Friday). All that faculty and staff need to do is bring their IDs to either Cherry Street or the Bottom Line to take advantage of this great offer. Which got The Commons wonderingjust how many free cups of drip coffee or tea did Bon Appétit dispense last summer? But rather than give you the answer, let's make it a guessing game. Send your answer to The Commons. The closest guess (you can go over or under) will win a Commons baseball cap. Stay tuned for the answer and the winner. And keep enjoying those free cups of coffee or tea on Mondays through Aug. 29!

A:  Congratulations, Sue Hogan, director of marketing and communications in the School of Theology and Ministry, for hazarding the closest guess. Sue surmised that 850 cups of free coffee were purveyed by Bon Appétit last summer. The actual amount? 871. How she got within 21 cups is anyone's guess. Thanks, everyone, for playing and don't forget to keep taking advantage of your Monday morning free fix of coffee or tea at Cherry Street Market for the rest of August.

Q: What is the most unique tree on our campus?

June 15, 2011

Most unique campus tree

Q:  What is the most unique tree on our campus?

A:  After speaking with SU gardener Becki Koukal-Liebe, all signs seem to point to the Franklinia alatamaha located in the Biodiversity Garden behind Loyola Hall. The tree “is unique in that it is the sole member of the Franklinia genus, an uncommon occurrence in plant taxonomy,” explains Koukal-Liebe. 

Botanists John and William Bartram encountered “The Lost American Tree,” as it has come to be known, near the Altamaha River in Georgia in 1765. The tree has not been found in the wild since 1803, and there are only 2,046 trees of its kind worldwide, according to 1999 data. The few Franklinia trees living today come from the seeds collected and planted in the Bartrams’ Philadelphia garden. 

Koukal-Liebe writes: “My tree and shrub bible, Manual of Woody Landscape Plants by Michael A. Dirr says, ‘if one is so fortunate to procure this species he/she should provide it a place of prominence in the garden; an aristocrat because of its interesting history.’”

Q: I’m a big fan of Ancient Greek literature. Are there any opportunities on campus for me to pursue this passion?

June 1, 2011

Ancient Greek reading group welcomes new members

Q:  I’m a big fan of Ancient Greek literature. Are there any opportunities on campus for me to pursue this passion? 

A:  Yes. Starting this quarter, an Ancient Greek reading group has been meeting in the library’s Faculty Lounge about twice a month. (They are currently reading Plato's Euthyphro.) The group includes, from left to right, David Boness (physics), Dave Madsen (history), Yancy Hughes Dominick (philosophy), Emiliano Trizio (philosophy) and Jeff Staley (theology and religious studies). Are you interested in joining? The group is welcoming new members. All faculty and staff are invited. Contact Yancy Hughes Dominick at for more information.

Q: Is there anything notable about the food we ate and the flowers we enjoyed at the Faculty and Staff Appreciation party?

May 17, 2011

Food and flowers at Appreciation Party

Q:  Is there anything notable about the food we ate and flowers we enjoyed at the Faculty and Staff Appreciation party? 

A:  Yes. As was true last year, Bon Appétit served a menu of low-carbon items, and the flowers you saw at the event were collected from our campus by the grounds department and arranged by volunteers. 

Q: How can I lessen my impact on the Earth?

April 18, 2011

Five ways to be more green

Q:  How can I lessen my impact on the Earth? 

A:   As we prepare to celebrate Earth Day on April 22, Karen Price, campus sustainability manager, offers these five ideas for treading more lightly on our planet. 

1. Wipe wet hands dry on your pants, skirt or run them through your hair instead of debating if paper towels or air dryers are better. The next time you dry your hands on a paper towel and throw it in the trash think about the greenhouse gases that were created in the oil used to power equipment to harvest and transport trees to a mill, mill the trees, transport the paper towels to the dispenser, then transport them to a landfill. Feel guilty? Air dryers are not the answer because of the oil used for material extraction, fabrication and transportation. I have dried my hands by running them through my hair for about nine years and don’t miss the paper towel experience. I’m even teaching my one-and-a-half year old to wipe her hands on her skirt. 

2. Just stop drinking packaged beveragesthey’re bad for your health and the environment. Do you recycle the metal, plastic or glass container your beverage came in and feel like you are doing a good thing? Stop and think about the oil that was used by equipment for material extraction, to heat and melt it to form the container; the gas to ship the container to the beverage company, the distributer, the retailer, to your home, then to the recycling plant. Just because the Food and Drug Administration considers packaged beverages a food doesn’t mean that your body’s cells will thrive on sugar, corn syrup and chemicals. Bottled juice without the fruit’s fiber from its peel, for example apple and blueberry, spikes your blood sugar which contributes to diabetes and obesity. I will never give my child bottled beverages; she loves water and smoothies.   

3. Eat a lot less meat and dairyit’ll improve your health and the planet’s. Eating meat produces more greenhouse gas emissions than driving your car was in the news several years ago after a couple scientific reports were published. For example, the Environmental Defense Fund  writes on their web site, “If every American had one meat-free meal per week, it would be the same as taking more than 5 million cars off our roads.” Are you still eating the same amount of animal products? Beans and tofu have protein AND fiber, only small amounts of fat and no cholesterol. Quinoa has the highest protein content of any grain and Bon Appétit serves it at their salad bar. Read the New York Times Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler for more background information on the impacts of livestock to our planet’s health. 

4. Before you buy something new, evaluate if you really need it—and if you do, buy used.  For example, my dentist recommended I buy a Sonicare tooth brush. I saw several new-in-the-box listed on Craigslist for half the $100-200 price.  Then I looked at my husband’s Sonicare and saw that I could remove his brush head and twist on another brush head in five seconds. So I decided to share my husband’s Sonicare instead of buying used. I saved myself $50-100. I saved the planet from the environmental stress of material extraction and transportation and the hazardous materials in the battery. The book, Your Money or Your Life, explains how you can get more happiness out of life by spending less, saving more, and thinking about earning and spending money as expending your energy for something of value. 

5. Learn about the health risks to you, your family and the environment from the consumer products you use daily. Do not expect the government to protect you—you have to become an informed consumer. The Environmental Working Group is a non-profit team of scientists, engineers, policy experts and lawyers that pores over government data, legal documents, scientific studies and their own laboratory tests to expose threats to your health and the environment. Their research brings to light unsettling facts that you have a right to know. Go to to find how the most and least toxic sunscreens, learn why you should get rid of your Teflon pans, download the Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, compare the radiation in cell phones, and so much more. 

Q: What is the process for selecting Alumni Award recipients?

April 5, 2011

Choosing Alumni Awards recipients

Q:  What is the process for selecting Alumni Award recipients? 

A:  Every year in fall quarter Alumni Relations puts out an invitation, far and wide, asking alumni, faculty and staff to submit nominations in six categories. A subcommittee of the Alumni Board of Governors then votes on the nominees and sends their recommendations to the president and vice president for University Advancement, who give final approval to the awardees.

The following individuals were honored at the 26th Annual Alumni Awards celebration on April 5.

Alumna of the Year:  Betty Petri Hedreen, ’57
University Service Award:  Anita Crawford-Willis, ’82, ’86
Professional Achievement Award:  William Marler, ’87
Community Service Award:  Ezra Teshome, ’76
Distinguished Teaching, Toni Vezeau, College of Nursing
Outstanding Recent Alumnus: Ryan Schmid, ’07

Q: Can I get my taxes done for free?

March 21, 2011

Free tax prep

Q:  Can I get my taxes done for free?

A:  If your household income is $50,000 or less, the answer is yes. This year, the accounting department in the Albers School of Business and Economics is working with the United Way of King County to provide free tax help at the Yesler Community Center (917 E. Yesler Way). The service is available now through April 16*. SU accounting students are working at the site on Saturdays, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., and tax preparation is also available on Thursdays, 5-9 p.m. For more information, visit Free Tax Preparation

* Please note that the Internal Revenue Service has extended the deadline for filing taxes to Monday, April 18.