On Nov. 7, UI senators backed away from a proposal putting the Urbana Academic Senate on record as advocating against pending legislation aimed at overhauling the state's pension system.
The debate on whether to craft a formal statement encompassed much of the senate's November meeting, an exercise that eventually doomed a vote on the issue after a quorum call showed not enough senators remained to take action.
The discussion followed a presentation by John Kindt, a business and legal policy professor and chair of the senate's Committee on Faculty and Academic Staff Benefits, who urged senators to follow ethics guidelines if they desired to privately contact legislative representatives and voice concern over Illinois Senate Bill 512.
Kindt said the legislation includes "Draconian measures" negatively affecting the pensions of university and other state employees, including calls for a revised system of higher employee contributions and reduced benefits.
An Illinois House committee sent SB 512, with amendments, forward to the full House Nov. 8. Final recommendations are for a three-tier pension system, including a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan. It's uncertain when the House will put the measure up for a vote when it reconvenes Nov. 29, and the bill never was voted on when presented at the spring veto session.
The State Universities Annuitants Association, already on record as opposing SB 512, on Nov. 8 spoke against the provisions in the new amendment as "broad reform that extends to all pension systems."
According to the SUAA analyses, starting in 2013 the new system would cap earnings used to calculate benefits and raise the retirement age to 67 for new hires.
In addition, those hired prior to 2011 would have to choose one of three revised benefit plans in 2013, which include caps on benefits and employer contributions.
"We have not had a chance to go through this (amended) bill," Kindt said, noting his committee would be "extremely active in the coming months" as state legislators look to public-employee benefits as a way to solve Illinois' financial morass.
Kindt said UI President Michael J. Hogan had been a strong voice on the pension issue.
Kindt provided copies for senators of Hogan's opinion piece on pensions appearing in the Oct. 30 edition of the Chicago Sun-Times, as well as a widely circulated Hogan email asking employees to privately contact legislators concerning SB 512.
"The likely effect of Senate Bill 512 in its current form will be a brain drain from these public universities and their surrounding communities," Hogan said in his statement to the Sun-Times. "Such an exodus would devastate our ability to meet the U. of I.'s teaching, research, public service and health care missions, and would slam the brakes on what has consistently been a vibrant economic engine for this great state."
Opponents of an official faculty senate statement cited procedural challenges and possible legal ramifications if senators took an active, politically motivated position.
"Is it appropriate for the senate to take a vote on this?" asked Sen. Nick Burbules, a professor of education policy, organization and leadership, before calling for the vote to be postponed. "I urge you to be very careful about voting for something when we don't even have all the facts."
SEC vice chair Joyce Tolliver, a professor of Spanish, recommended faculty senators follow Hogan's suggestion to lobby legislators privately. She said she assumed Hogan's advocacy was allowed, while the faculty senate's may not be, because the UI president is registered as a lobbyist with the state.
While at least two motions for votes came to the floor, in the end none was considered after the quorum call.