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May 25, 1995

Lawmaker proposes axing tuition benefit for dependents, spouses

State Rep. John Lawless (R-Montgomery County) plans to introduce a multi-bill higher education legislative package that includes the elimination of tuition benefits for dependents and spouses of employees at colleges and universities receiving state funds.

Contrary to a report in the May 24 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Lawless says he does not plan to introduce legislation ending the tuition remission benefit for staff and faculty themselves.

"Right now the dependents of Pitt receive a 90 percent reduction in tuition," Lawless said in a University Times interview. "My bill would eliminate that discounted tuition to the children of staff and professors, not to the staff and professors. Obviously, I think they [staff and faculty] should be able to go to school." However, a draft of Lawless's bill, dated May 18, contains the following sentence: "Beginning July 1, 1999, an institution of higher education that receives state aid is prohibited from providing a tuition or any other fee discount to its employees or spouses or dependents of its employees." When questioned about the difference in the language of the bill and his statement, Lawless said the May 18 document is only a draft.

"We're going to change that," Lawless said. "That is why the bill hasn't been introduced yet. That's inaccurate. Obviously, I didn't write the bill. There are attorneys who do that.

"There is an amendment process," he continued. "Right now, we're just throwing some things on the table. There is going to be all kinds of room to negotiate and, quite frankly, I will be for allowing employees to have that right, but not their children [or spouses]." Lawless said he opposes giving a tuition reduction to the children and spouses of staff and faculty at any institution that receives state aid because the average annual salary of a full-time professor in the state system of higher education is $69,000.

"Why should their children receive a free education when there are families who earn far less income and are struggling to put their children through college?" Lawless said. "The only qualification is genetic, being the child of a university employee." According to Lawless, "it also is not fair that life-long, taxpaying residents of Pennsylvania should have to struggle and save to put their children through college, when professors can be hired from other states, move to Pennsylvania and put their children through school for free just because they work for one of the state system schools." Other items in Lawless's multi-bill higher education package would: * Require that 80 percent of full professors teach at least 12 credit hours each semester before any college or university could receive state funding.

* Immediately eliminate honoraria for speakers employed at a college or university receiving state money when they speak at another institution that receives state funds.

* Prohibit faculty union representatives from being paid by their universities while on union business.

At a May 22 press conference, Lawless said he was introducing his package of bills because he was not satisfied with the answers he received from college and university presidents during recent House appropriations committee hearings regarding the number of hours facility members spend in the classroom.

Lawless noted that York College, a small, private institution, requires its professors to teach at least 12 credit-hours per semester. He said faculty members at state-owned and state-related institutions should face the same requirements.

"Too many graduate students and instructors are conducting classes, while full professors are ostensibly conducting research," he said.

Lawless also expressed concern over the number of professors at state-funded institutions who are on sabbatical leave. According to the legislator, nearly 300 professors in the state-owned system of universities are on sabbatical this year.

"Not only are they being paid, but they aren't teaching," Lawless said. "This robs students of the opportunity to learn from the most highly trained faculty members these colleges and universities employ." On the subject of honoraria, Lawless said he does not think that a faculty member of any college or university that receives state money should charge another state-owned or state-related institution a fee for making a speech.

According to Lawless, such honoraria "amount to taxpayers paying that person twice. Regardless of who the speaker is, if they work for a higher education institution receiving state money, they should not be collecting an honorarium." About professors who are representatives of faculty unions being paid by their institutions while on union business, Lawless said he personally knows of one such faculty union representative at Temple University. "That's just plain wrong," Lawless said.

–Mike Sajna

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