Tuesday, March 08, 2016
Ask the Administrator: Returning Under a Cloud?
As far as the institutional detail, some background.
An Illinois retiree has the option of taking his pension as a lump sum, or as an annuity. When interest rates are high enough, a retiree who has been in the system long enough might be in the position to live well off the interest (and subject to whatever the tax code requires for distributions of principal.) But to continue to participate in the state health insurance plan (with people vested after eight years and with assets accumulated for 25 years, there will be a lot of retirees younger than 65) the retiree must take the annuity.
In the rules, that's worded as "must annuitize balance." And retirees are eligible to join "annuitants' associations," which at Northern Illinois provide a combination political action committee, chance to socialize with other retired colleagues, and continued use of university electronic mail. (No thanks, I have other ways to stay connected.) Thus the strange terminology.
Because a number of state employees (I lose track of how many were in the academy and how many were in the other state pension plans) double-dipped, there are new restrictions limiting when retirees can be rehired, and under no circumstances can their part-time salary plus pension exceed their final full time salary. (I may have some of the details wrong, but there's no inducement for me to come back, whether I'm income limited or able to double dip.)
The shall-contribute-full pension provision is part poison pill (to discourage state employers from enabling double-dipping) and part method of raising money. The pension funds have their own trust funds and assets and constitutional protections. I'm not sure if the state is currently making required contributions to those funds, part of the difficulty these days is that the state wasn't making full appropriations to those funds a few years ago (that permitted the state to pay other vendors such as clinics more promptly). As long as interest rates and stock returns were high, that might have been spinnable, but of late ...
All the same, administrators might be coping with hiring freezes by bringing back annuitants subject to the various new constraints as a way of making sure that classes are covered.
*Will you be continuing to collect a pension, and therefore not be contributing to the pension system with your work (will you be part of the problem of an underfunded system vs. if they hired someone else who would be paying in)?
*What are the global precedent setting effects (if any)? While people retiring out as adjuncts may very well become affected, it's nigh-impossible for full timers to become affected given the income differences- would this open a road for more retirees (full time or special cases like you) to return? Is that a good or a bad thing given the point above? How will the college make sure you do not become affected due to working at multiple colleges? [They all count, this is one of the problems with looking at rehires of retirees, how are you *sure* they don't have a job elsewhere in the system that will push them over the limits]
*Might there be a way to work out a system involving suspended pensions and return to work (currently we have an affected adjunct who has suspended his pension to assure we cannot incur liability based on his salary) that might benefit your colleagues if admin is open to such a thing?
*Is there need for more adjuncts in your area or is enrollment down to the point that a return to work is pushing someone else out (in terms of the likely response of colleagues to your possible return).
I don't see any downside to going back. (But I also don't see why you couldn't go to work somewhere else. Some of my colleagues pick up classes at a local private college and make more than they would in the state CC or university system. Maybe you are in a field where the curriculum is highly local. My background is in physics, mathematics, and other physical sciences like chemistry where everybody teaches the same stuff.) Just realize that they don't need to rehire you. If they can find 80 new adjuncts to replace the experienced people they let go and don't suffer any negative consequences, they are doing what they could have done at any time.
So go back and collect new stories of HR and admin incompetence to share with your fellow retirees when you socialize with them. A good story should make up for any irritation they might have with you, assuming they have any at all.