Some professors, staff members choose to retire in light of pension legislation

By Ian Gogh

As a result of potentially negative pension legislation in Springfield, some professors and staff members at NIU have taken precautions and made the choice to retire.

The Institute of Government and Public Affair’s (IGPA) 2011 Annual Report states, “Illinois likely had the most substantial reductions for new employees, with employees starting in 2011 and after receiving benefits far below those of existing employees.” The benefit packages promised to employees have not been completely funded by the government. Of the 216 pension programs in the U.S., the three state funded programs in Illinois are in the bottom 10. The bottom two in Illinois are in the country’s bottom three, according to the report.

“We ought to make our opinions about higher education known to our legislators,” said Deborah Haliczer, Director of Employee Relations. “What happens when we lose our senior professors’ expertise? Ultimately, it’s the students who will suffer.”

Most state governments will contribute a certain percentage of the state’s payroll to aid in funding pension programs. According to a 2011 report by the IGPA, Wisconsin’s state government was able to contribute 23.4 percent to teachers’ pensions in Milwaukee. In Illinois, teachers received only 11.3 percent, less than half of the figures from Wisconsin.

“I would have had to work longer to get to the same place,” said Sue Ouellette, professor of rehabilitation counseling. Ouellette plans on retiring after this semester. “I don’t know what’s going to happen in Springfield, but I don’t want to stick around to find out.”

The problems professors face in Illinois have not only pushed some professors to retire – it may also prevent new professors from coming in.

“Any changes in this regard will create significant additional challenges for the employing institutions,” said Steve Cunningham, Vice President of Administration and Human Resources. “Especially with respect to faculty, academic professional and specialized civil service appointments.”

In a study done by the IGPA, participants were given surveys concerning their retirement. When asked if potential pension legislation affected their plans to retire, 35.5 percent said potential legislation led them to consider retirement, and 39.4 percent said they decided to definitely retire.

When asked what factors they had considered in their retirement, 44.6 percent said “changes in benefits and work conditions.” Another 66.9 percent said “potential pension legislation” was the primary factor.

“The greatest challenge is that such legislation must address record unfunded liabilities, while also respecting those pension benefits guaranteed to employees already,” Cunningham said.