Letter shows NIU’s pension worries


By Gavin Weaver

University Council approved a draft statement addressing the need for a preliminary injunction to suspend the enforcement of Illinois’ pension reform.

The draft statement was approved by Faculty Senate on April 23. It addresses the danger of the university losing 800 or more employees due to the pension reform law, which passed in early December and states those who do not retire before June 30 will lose a year’s worth of pension benefit accruals. The statement is intended to be released to assist lawyers in filing a preliminary injunction motion.

According to the draft, five lawsuits have been filed challenging the constitutionality of the law, but those may not be resolved before June 30. Marc Falkoff, assistant law professor and assistant chair of the Academic Planning Council, said this instills fear in long-term employees who do not want to retire but feel it is necessary to do so because of the uncertainty of the pension reform law.

Falkoff helped write the draft statement and presented it to the council. He said the draft statement is not meant to be a legal argument but merely a way to address concerns on behalf of fearful employees.

“It’s not meant to be a provocative, in-your-face kind of statement. It’s purposely anodyne,” Falkoff said.

Deborah Haliczer, Supportive Professional Staff Council president, said the draft statement will not violate the ethics act, since state employees are allowed to comment on political issues. Comments on political issues are allowed, Haliczer said, as long as the individual does not identify him- or herself as a publicly university representative.

Falkoff reiterated this point when he said the draft statement does not express the views of the body on whether the pension reform law is constitutional.

“It’s purposely written not to do that. It asks for the status quo to be maintained so that the university does not suffer the issue of retirements,” Falkoff said.

NIU President Doug Baker said NIU is not the only university that has made moves to suspend reinforcement of the pension reform law. On April 18, Baker was invited by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois to speak about the concerning effects of the pension reform law on behalf of NIU.

Baker told University Council Chris Kennedy, chair of the Board of Trustees at the University of Illinois, has taken this issue at hand very seriously.

“We have been working in the background to try to rectify this,” Baker said.

The University Council voted 39-3-3 to approve the draft statement.

Other business

William Pitney was elected as the executive secretary of University Council for the 2014-2015 year with a 45-2-2 vote.

“Thank you for being willing to serve,” Baker said. “It’s an important task, so I appreciate you taking on this leadership role.”

Sean Farrell, Liberal Arts and Sciences associate professor, reviewed a second draft for online courses carrying undergraduate credit. The draft is an update on policies for distance education courses.

One of the changes made gives students full and equal accessibility to a classroom setting. A guarantee of significant amount of interaction between students and their instructor and other students, whether it is through email, discussion boards, etc., was added to the draft.

“What is education worth if students can’t access it?” Farell said.