News Local/State

U Of I: Illinois Pension Overhaul Had Costly Mistake


The University of Illinois Board of Trustees has told President Robert Easter to work with other state schools and lawmakers to prevent a wave of retirements brought on by Illinois’ pension reform law.

Administrators say as many as 4,000 employees in the U of I system could lose hundreds of dollars a month in retirement benefits if they don’t retire by July 1.

In a special meeting Friday, U of I Trustees heard from a number of angry faculty members, including Chemistry and Engineering Professor Kenneth Suslick. 

He said he’s forced to retire sooner than planned after 36 years on the Urbana campus.

"The state, to me, has demonstrated itself to be an unreliable employer, and no longer deserves my services,” Suslick said.

Easter said the problem stems from an error in the pension law involving a benefit option called the ‘money purchase formula’, and he’s working with legislative leaders to develop a fix.

“I’m optimistic that something will get done - but it needs to get done – sooner rather than later is the challenge," he said.

State Sen. Daniel Biss was involved in drafting the legislation, and says the change would be simple. But some lawmakers may be uneasy about reopening the pension legislation.

U of I Trustees will vote next month on a supplemental employee retirement plan to make up for a loss in pension funds.

Meanwhile, trustees have also named a 19-member search committee to look for President Easter's replacement.

Easter plans to retire in June 2015. The university has said it hopes to have a replacement selected by January.

Trustees on Friday named a committee that includes three of their own, Pam Strobel, James Montgomery and Ricardo Estrada. Strobel will chair the committee. 

The committee also includes eight faculty members from the university's three campuses and three students. Alumni and staff members fill the five remaining spots. The committee will interview candidates and present a list of between eight and 10 finalists to the board.
In 2012, Easter replaced Michael Hogan, who resigned under pressure from faculty who were unhappy over his plans for the university.