Large group of retirees leave for multiple reasons

Pension issues, age, university politics

The faculty and staff population on campus will significantly decrease Monday.

Many of the 329 retiring faculty and staff at SIU will leave the university because of state pension issues.

As it stands, 20 percent of each employee’s paycheck goes into his or her retirement fund. Employees pay 8 percent into the fund while the state pays the other 12 percent. However, with pension talks still on the legislative table, the state may stop paying altogether.

Grady Sorrows, a retired electrician for Plant and Service Operations, said he plans to spend his newly acquired free time with his grandkids and doing woodwork.

Sorrows, who is 66 years old and worked at the university for 15 years, said he left in June because of issues with state pension.

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“Until they changed (retirement plans), it was fine the way it was because we were hired under those stipulations,” he said. “But now they changed it … that’s why everyone is retiring.”

However, Morteza Daneshdoost, a soon-to-be retired professor of electrical and computer engineering, said he thinks it’s more than just pension issues that’s causing people to leave.

“I think one of the reasons that I hear from faculty is the direction of the university, where it’s going,” he said. “They think that the current administration does not truly understand the academic culture of the community.”

Daneshdoost, who has been president of the Faculty Association twice and played a major role in November’s faculty strike, gave examples of why faculty are unhappy with the university.

He said professors are now being told they cannot be the fiscal officers of the grants they’ve received, which means the teacher is not in charge of how his or her grant is spent. Usually the teacher would be the fiscal officer, he said, because he or she would have been the one to write up the proposal for the grant and put together the budget for it.

Another issue involves the amount of credit hours a student needs to graduate. Each department had a unique amount of credit hours a student would need to meet, but now the university is pushing toward only requiring 120 credit hours. Daneshdoost said the Department of Engineering requires 128 credit hours, but if the department were to press to keep that requirement, the university would refuse to fill position requests from the department.

If performance-based funding is passed in the state, the university will be pressured to graduate its students with 120 credit hours in four years.

Not filling position requests only adds to the problem of short staffing, Daneshdoost said, which is another reason he is unhappy with the university. He said the hiring freeze leaves departments short staffed.

“It’s a significant effect on me, because I’m going to be deprived of having more colleagues to work with,” he said. “People are going to be teaching more courses. So when you do that, you kind of deprive the departments of developing new ideas and moving forward.”

While it’s important to beautify the campus, Daneshdoost said it shouldn’t be done when the university is in such a dire financial crisis. He said what money there is should be spent on education first.

Daneshdoost said he believes while some people are leaving because of pension issues, others just aren’t happy with the politics of the university.

Chancellor Rita Cheng, however, said otherwise.

The university hired a large number of faculty and staff during the ’70s and ’80s, she said, and those people are now eligible to retire.

Cheng said the average age of the retirees is older than 60, and the average number of years served at the university is 25.

“That tells you these people have been thinking about retiring for quite awhile,” she said. “They all came in when the university was growing fast.”

With that said, Cheng said she believes the pension issues may have pushed more people to retire this year who would have otherwise waited another couple of years.

Other state universities are seeing similar rates of retirements this year.

At Western Illinois University, 161 faculty and staff are retiring, while the average number of retirements over the past four years has been 77, said Bill Rupert, deputy director of benefits at WIU.

“Survey data shows this increase is in great part due to the money purchase actuarial changes and fears regarding legislation affecting retirement annuities,” he said.

Daneshdoost said he does agree, though, that some people are leaving just because it’s their time or because of pension issues.

Dennis Lowry, a soon-to-be retired professor of journalism, said his number one reason for retiring was the state’s financial situation.

“The number two reason was it was simply time for me because I finished a 40-year teaching and research career, and it just seemed time to move on and do other things,” he said.

Daneshdoost said another reason he chose to retire was to spend more time with his two daughters. He said he hopes to pick up carpentry again, too, and maybe start playing bridge again.

Mostly, Daneshdoost said, he is concerned employees will be unhappy when they leave the university.

“I see people leaving who have been totally devoted to this place, and they’re leaving without the happy ending, which is a major issue for any institution,” he said.

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About Tara Kulash

You can reach Tara at tkulash@dailyegyptian.com or 536-3311 ext. 255.

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