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Early retirement incentives a commendable alternative to job cuts

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | FEBRUARY 04, 2010 7:30 AM

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At least UI employees are retiring instead of getting handed a pink slip.

UI administrators are set to present the state Board of Regents a second run at the university’s early retirement program. During the first round, the UI granted retirement to 340 of the 700 applicants; to date, 149 of the cut positions are still vacant.

While we’re in favor of a cost-effective plan that doesn’t simply ship out faculty, the implications of such a plan are potentially nebulous — and not widely acknowledged. Officials should remain cognizant of the deleterious effect an understaffed university can have on students’ education and overall experience.

According to a five-year estimation found in regents’ documents, the cost to shore up funds for the 340 retired — and also replace salaries for those that must be replaced — is $83 million.

Alternatively, the price of paying all the 340 salaries would be $150 million. Obviously, pocketing an additional $67 million during the next half-decade is preferential.

But underneath the slick veneer of the program, we have to ask, what types of jobs are being shelved? With the 149 positions still in limbo, could UI students be missing out on certain benefits expected of post-secondary schooling?

Richard Saunders, an assistant vice president for Human Resources and the head of the benefits office, said the largest majority of those accepted into the early retirement were merit staff employees, such as secretaries, custodians, and groundsworkers.

“The essential services on campus are not going to be affected,” Saunders said.

But are faculty already granted, and those interested in the second trial of the early retirement program afforded, a fair and just compensation for their years of work at the UI?

“The individuals who, of course, have been approved for participation, are very happy with it,” Saunders said.

But Saunders also acknowledged the disappointment among some.

“The people who were denied, some of them are not very happy with it,” he said. “In order to be approved, there had to be substantial savings for the university.”

If the regents do approve a second phase of early retirement incentives in Ames today, the new program will change — albeit just slightly — from the initial program.

The first program, which concluded at the end of September, was restricted to those UI employees older than 57. Now, the age limit will be lowered to 55, opening up a larger eligibility window.

Projected savings from the second round are $1 million for the General Education Fund, $2 million overall. The proposal calls for applications to be accepted between Feb. 15 and March 31.

Participants in early retirement must be fully retired by July 31.

As a method of increasing savings during a period of economic tribulation, the early retirement incentive program is a far better option for the UI community than simply cutting jobs. We commend those who sought to implement early retirement incentives. Still, we have reservations.

We hope that those approved for the program are justly compensated for their years of work at the university and that officials remain mindful of the negative implications of a potentially understaffed university.


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