People ‘annoyed’ over pension plan

By James Green

Illinois’ pension plan has NIU faculty and staff feeling ignored while the school contemplates methods of handling the bill.

On Tuesday, legislators approved a pension reform bill after years of financial worries in the form of unfunded liabilities and pension issues.

Gov. Pat Quinn has signed the bill, which will cut cost of living increases for pensioners and raise the minimum retirement age for state workers.

Earlier in the semester, NIU had drafted a resolution detailing what the university wanted in reform. In November, the school also hosted a forum for attendees to address the matter directly with Representatives Bob Pritchard, Tom Demmer and Mike Fortner.

What the bill means

There are positive aspects of the bill, such as a reorganized plan that brings sources of funding to help pay for Illinois’ liabilities, said Administration Vice President Steve Cunningham. Cunningham said this doesn’t necessarily make up for problematic components, like the cost of living and pensionable income provisions.

“For example, cost of living payments over time could be cut in half,” Cunningham said. “For our longer-term employees who have invested most of their careers and retirements here, this is a very serious consequence. Shorter-term employees will have an even lower cost of living provision, but they may have other systems that combine with this.”

Cunningham said if the pension bill is sustained, NIU may have to consider an internally funded retirement plan to remain a competitive employment option, putting further pressure on NIU’s budget.

Cunningham and Alan Rosenbaum, psychology professor and Faculty Senate president, have concerns about faculty retention due to NIU’s turnover rate — 42 percent — in the last four years.

“If the employees covered by this had worked for private employment then the contributions that maintain benefits would have been made consistently,” Cunningham said. “They don’t have the option of deferring payments, and because that happened with the state of Illinois it led to this sort of unfunded liabilities crisis and pressure to cut relied-upon benefits.”


Rosenbuam said it feels as though lawmakers didn’t take NIU’s perspective into consideration.

“Steve Cunningham and the president of the university had been working and talking to all these people. They thought they had been making some gains,” Rosenbaum said. “Many people have been trying to make points and explain to legislators what the impacts on certain things are, but they essentially ignored almost all of us. Everyone’s kind of in the same boat.”

Rosenbaum said it’s not just professors who are affected by this legislation. All university employees have been paying into the pension, but now that the state has been “failing to do its part,” Rosenbaum said people feel as though they are being punished for the state’s mistakes.

“People are feeling swindled, that they were lied to,” Rosenbaum said. “It’s a reduction of benefits that were already promised, it’s a violation of the Illinois constitution, and people are really annoyed about this situation.”

Student concerns

Mike Theodore, Student Association Chief of Staff and senior political science major, said the loss of skilled professionals is a major concern of the SA.

“Students may look at some of the best faculty they’ve worked with here and think ‘This person has really helped me,’ but if you think long term, all those great faculty and staff now don’t have an incentive to stay at NIU,” Theodore said.

Theodore also said students should be mindful that pension reform will impact their future.

“A good amount of our student body may be going into public service, whether it’s working for a university or a state agency or a police department. People who stay in Illinois are going to be a part of this,” Theodore said. “Students have to start thinking long term about the best place to enter the workforce, and I’m already hearing a lot of staffers saying they’re glad they went into private employment instead of the public sector.”