UI senate backs principles for pension reform

UI senate backs principles for pension reform

URBANA — As the state grapples with pension liabilities and state employees face possible changes to their retirement benefits, a University of Illinois faculty group endorsed a resolution that says any reforms being considered should maintain benefits promised to current participants.

The University Senates Conference, made up of faculty leaders from the Urbana-Champaign, Springfield and Chicago campuses, approved the resolution Friday. On Monday, the Urbana-Champaign senate unanimously expressed its support for the document.

The two-page resolution, sent to UI Board of Trustees Chair Christopher Kennedy, UI President-designate Robert Easter and other administrators, outlines a set of principles that should guide the pension reform process, "the most important of which is fairness to university employees who entered the system on the basis of a certain understandings and commitments that need to be honored."

Don Chambers, UIC professor and chair of the senates conference, said Monday it was important for the group to have a faculty statement on pension reforms so university faculty, officials and administrators can share it with legislators.

"This was our one chance this semester and probably over the next few months to make a statement with regard to these issues," said business Professor John Kindt. Monday was the last time the senate would meet as a whole before the end of the academic year.

The resolution said any discussion on pension reforms must involve consultations with those affected, any promised benefits to current participants and annuitants be maintained as guaranteed by the state constitution, and the state should continue to make its contributions to the system at a level at least equal to the level of what it would be paying to Social Security along with its contributions to health care.

The document references a reform proposal issued by the UI Institute of Government & Public Affairs, but does not offer outright endorsement of it.

The resolution also stated that existing unfunded pension liabilities must remain the state's responsibility, and the state must guarantee that future payments be made on time; plus, any transfer of normal costs to the university must be nominal and phased in gradually. Any reform must include improvement to the current "tier II" program for new employees, as outlined in the IGPA paper, such as a hybrid plan with defined benefits and features of a self-managed plan, and this program should also be available to tier I employees.

Harriet Murav, president of the Campus Faculty Association, said she appreciated the group's effort to issue a statement to university leadership and the legislature, but "we need a reliable, effective, continuous lobbying effort" greater than what a group of university presidents or administrators can do, she said. Murav urged faculty to support collective bargaining as a way to have a strong voice in the legislative process.

Sanctions update

In other senate news, interim Provost Richard Wheeler said Urbana Chancellor Phyllis Wise has adopted the set of procedures the senate addressed last month regarding the process for pursuing sanctions short of dismissal against a tenured faculty member.

At the previous senate meeting, Wheeler said the university statutes leave the Article 9 procedures up to the campus, and those procedures had never been established. Turns out some procedures were established back in 2003, but they were never adopted by the previous chancellors, Nancy Cantor or Richard Herman, Wheeler said.

On Monday, Wheeler apologized for not digging deep enough into the records and for disclosing that information at the previous meeting.

The faculty group has been discussing the procedures in wake of the resignation of Lisa Troyer as chief of staff to President Michael Hogan and her subsequent joining of the psychology faculty in Urbana. The action does not mean the campus has decided to pursue such sanctions, as outlined in Article 9, Section 6, of the University Statutes, but if the campus does go that route, the process will be clear, Wheeler has said.

The process calls for the convening of a faculty advisory committee to determine if due cause exists, and that group has not met yet, Wheeler said.