SURS offers opportunity for second consultation

By MaryCate Most

The State University Retirement System has waived its one-consultation per year rule to aid University faculty and staff who are considering what the state’s pension reform will mean for them.

John Kindt, chair of the Senate committee on faculty and academic staff benefits, said no one but SURS staff should be advising University faculty and staff on decisions regarding retirement.

“People should simply talk to SURS,” he said.

SURS Communication Manager Beth Spencer said SURS will not make recommendations to faculty and staff but instead provide information to potential retirees to help them make the right decision.

“We don’t give suggestions; we give people the facts and let them know what their options are,” Spencer said. “There are many components of this. We are just trying to break it down so they know how it affects them individually.”

SURS will be giving a presentation at the University on March 1 explaining the details of the state’s pension reform, which was passed in December and will potentially be enacted on June 1, pending court cases surrounding the legislation. The presentation will include information regarding the pension cap, delayed retirement age and changes to the effective rate of interest as well as encourage faculty to look into details about pension reform on the SURS website. At a later date, SURS will host three webinars and have Larry Curtis, the employer representative at SURS, give presentations about pension reform impacts. 

Spencer and Kindt emphasized the stipulations of the legislation affect each faculty member uniquely. 

“It is very sensitive and people need to make sure that they are getting good advice for their particular situation,” Kindt said. “Every situation is different. They (faculty and staff) should not rely on hearsay, or talk around the water cooler. My committee and I have not been giving advice.”

Pension reform has stirred up discussion and debate on campus. University president Robert Easter and his staff are currently in the process of developing a plan to supplement decreased pensions in some way.

Business Professor Jeff Brown wrote a paper in 2012 endorsed by both the Urbana-Champaign Senate and the University Senates Conference regarding how pension reform should be. 

“There is a lot of uncertainty and anxiety about the reform,” Brown said. “Both SURS and the University of Illinois have tried to actively communicate to employees about what this means, but a lot of the uncertainty is inherent in this (reform).”

Much of the uncertainty is rooted in pending court cases that could still change the specifics of pension reform law.

“There are a number of ways that the courts could go on this,” Brown said. “In the meantime, the University has made it clear that the University plans on taking some steps on mitigating the damage.”

Many University faculty and staff have given their own time to raising awareness about the impact of pension reform, Kindt said.

“The faculty and staff benefits committee and other faculty and staff have worked within the ethical guidelines to help their colleagues,” Kindt said. “It has been a unifying type of issue across campus as people try to assist without giving any advice.”

MaryCate can be reached at [email protected]