Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The So-Called Illinois “Pension Crisis”

“…While Illinois has very real challenges, it is not for the reason anti-pension actors claim… Illinois receives a lot of criticism because of the sheer size of its unfunded pension liability. According to some estimatesIllinois’ total unfunded public pension liability may add up to $251 billion. That is a significant amount of money, but an unfunded liability that large doesn’t happen overnight.

“The poor state of Illinois’ public pension plans is the direct result of decades of gross mismanagement by the state government.

“Public pension plans work when they are properly funded. As [the National Public Pension Coalition] discussed in a report last yearmaking the full pension payment each and every year is the single most important thing a state can do to properly manage its pension system.

“Unfortunately, in Illinois, the state has not fully funded its pension payments in almost eight decades.

“Let that sink in for a minute. For seventy-eight years – the length of the average American life expectancy – Illinois has ignored its obligations to public employees and taxpayers and avoided its responsibility to fully fund its pension promises.

“Illinois’ budgetary and financial problems go beyond public pensions though. The income tax collected by the state is flat and lacks a progressive structure. The state could be collecting millions of dollars more in revenue each year if it adopted a more progressive tax code.

“Voters approved a measure in 2014 calling on the state legislature to collect a 3 percent tax on incomes above $1 million to fund education. Unfortunately, the state legislature failed to pass the millionaires tax. Furthermore, many corporations in Illinois avoid paying their fair share – or paying any tax at all. Illinois’ pension problems are a symptom of, not the cause of, its large financial troubles.

“It is not the nature of defined benefit pensions themselves that are causing Illinois’ problems. Wisconsin, the state’s northern neighbor, has a fully funded public pension system. New York, another large state with multiple public pension plans, has very well-funded pension systems.

“Even within Illinois, the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF) is well-funded. IMRF provides retirement security to employees of towns, villages, park districts, and counties across the state. The participating employers in IMRF are required by law to make their full pension payments each year. For this reason, the IMRF weathered the recession and remains well-funded.

“Illinois does face real challenges with its public pension systems, challenges that will take years to resolve. There is no magical solution to fix the state’s problems. Anyone who says that closing the pension plans and putting new employees in 401(k)-style plans will solve the state’s problems is wrong…

“Illinois’ pension problems are the direct result of years of mismanagement and deliberate underfunding by governors and legislators of both parties. Resolving these problems will take the commitment of lawmakers from both parties to fully fund the state’s pension obligations every year.

“Don’t let the pension critics fool you. When they hold up Illinois as an example and say, ‘see, pensions don’t work’ – don’t believe them. Pensions work when they are properly managed and properly funded.

“Across the nation and even within Illinois, there are examples of well-funded public pension plans. The problem with the other pension plans in Illinois is that they were deliberately underfunded by an irresponsible state government for decades. This is why it is critical that supporters of public pensions remain vigilant to protect pensions from irresponsible politicians and misleading anti-pension critics” (The Pension Crisis Is a Myth, Part Three).


Many Illinois citizens are aware that state legislators have not fully funded the public pension systems throughout the years; that instead of paying into the pension systems, they have used that money to pay for other services. Thus, without having to pay for services, state legislators have created an enormous pension debt (or unfunded liability) for the public pension systems in Illinois. The pension debt is, indeed, exorbitant.

Approximately one-third of the total pension payment each year is for “normal costs” to the system; the other two-thirds of the payment is the interest owed on the debt the state incurred for not fully funding the pension systems.

“The greatest cause of the state’s unfunded liability has been borrowing against the pension systems. This borrowing meant that the state’s contributions were not sufficient to pay for both benefits earned by current employees and interest on the pre-existing unfunded liability. Without sufficient contributions, an unfunded liability annually grows by a retirement system’s investment rate assumption (which ranges from seven percent to eight percent among Illinois’ five state systems).

“The state’s annual contribution to the retirement systems for debt service can be thought of as having two components: one part goes to pay down principal and the other is for interest on the principal. This is similar to paying down a credit card bill or home/car loan.

“The significant debt owed to the pension systems is the core cause of the systems’ cumulative unfunded liability—a situation that did not arise overnight. In fact, Illinois lawmakers essentially borrowed against the pension systems for several decades by under funding what was owed, and instead diverted the revenue that should have gone towards pensions to fund the delivery of current services—like Healthcare, Education, and Public Safety” (Center for Tax and Budget Accountability).

The public pension systems were not and are still not the cause of the state’s budget deficits. The state’s budget deficits were triggered by past policymakers’ corruption, arrogance and irresponsibility (and currently by Bruce Rauner, et al.).  The state's pension debt and revenue problems should be the focus. Moreover, to break a constitutionally-guaranteed contract with the state’s public servants has been and will continue to be a flagrant disregard of the State and U.S. Constitutions that will also not address the State’s increasing unfunded liability and its revenue problems.  

Roman Catholic Colleges and their enrollment challenges and lack of financial resources (Inside Higher Ed)

“…A quick look at recent announcements shows that many colleges closing or cutting back are Roman Catholic, and many are located in the middle of the country -- the Midwest and Appalachia.

“Those aren’t necessarily independent variables, though. There is a large number of small Roman Catholic colleges in the country, and many are located in regions where demographics are shifting with declines in populations that have traditionally attended Catholic institutions. The Roman Catholic institutions are likely caught up in trends affecting higher education more broadly -- trends like enrollment challenges, tuition discounting and a lack of financial resources at small institutions.

“‘A lot of our national data really indicate that some of these small Catholic colleges, as well as small private colleges throughout the country, are really struggling because of their finances,’ said Heather Gossart, director of executive mentoring and coaching and a senior consultant with the National Catholic Educational Association.

“Families are increasingly worried about tuition rates at colleges and universities, Gossart said. Some seek alternatives, such as public colleges that they think will be less expensive than Roman Catholic institutions. Others may not even consider small colleges because they don’t think a college small in size can offer as much financial aid as a larger university -- regardless of whether that perception is true.

“Many Roman Catholic colleges are doing very well, even if some are struggling, Gossart said. Yet she acknowledged a potentially grim future. ‘I think unless every one of our Catholic institutions begins thinking outside the box and looking at new and creative ways to recruit student populations and to create affordable tuitions, I think we are going to see the demise of some of our smaller Catholic colleges,’ she said.

“‘And it’s tragic, because each one brings a charism from its founding congregation. It brings a measurable value to the community that it exists in. But the reality is that it comes to a point where some of these smaller institutions are no longer viable.’

“There’s another possible explanation for what seems like a large number of Catholic colleges closing or making major changes. Their shared religious identity -- the connections between board members and specific perspectives fostered by their common faith -- might make them more likely to be early movers when it comes time to respond to pressures. If that’s the case, it could be an indication that other institutions are likely moving toward the brink but have yet to act…

“No matter their religious affiliation, colleges under the most pressure tend to be saddled with a mix of problems like financial issues, academic programs that don’t stand out, declining enrollment and difficulty fund-raising, said James M. Hunter, who is the chief academic officer and senior vice president for business development at Emerge Education, a consulting group. Many are also located in rural areas…

“Signs point to the Midwest being under significantly more enrollment pressure than other parts of the country. Many Midwestern admissions officers, even at elite institutions, also reported struggling this year.

“A Moody’s tuition survey released last week found that enrollment growth is projected at less than 1 percent across public and private universities nationwide in 2017. But 61 percent of institutions in the Midwest reported enrollment decreasing this fall. The portion projecting decreases in other parts of the country proved to be much lower, in the 40 percent range…

“CIC earlier this year released a report showing colleges and universities have recovered significantly since the Great Recession. It also showed colleges with fewer than 1,000 students have performed worse financially than larger institutions. Several colleges and universities have been closing every year for decades, Ekman said. Still, he acknowledged that there seems to be a slight uptick so far this year. ‘I don’t know that it’s the beginning of a trend, but I certainly hope not,’ he said.

“The current spate of closings doesn’t necessarily mean more will follow faster, said Peter Stokes, managing director at Huron Consulting Group. But it should serve as a wake-up call telling colleges and universities they need to be smarter about facing mounting challenges.

“There are likely ways for many to navigate those challenges. New types of student can be welcomed to classes, whether they be minority students who have traditionally been recruited in smaller numbers, adults or others who have historically been underserved. New donors can sometimes be found. Debt can often be managed better. Programs can be better tailored and colleges can carve out more unique identities instead of blending into the crowd.

“A key question remains whether it’s too late for some colleges to successfully follow new strategies. Another is whether their leaders will tell themselves that their colleges have a unique story that couldn’t possibly end in closure -- until the many pressures build into a crisis and it’s too late...”

For the entire article, Days of Reckoning by David Seltzer, click here.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Teachers’ Retirement System of the State of Illinois

The Teachers' Retirement System of the State of Illinois was created in 1939 for teachers outside of Chicago. The Teachers' Retirement System of the State of Illinois provides its members with retirement, disability, and survivor benefits.

 FY 2016 Membership:
Active Members – 159,735
Inactive members – 129,470
Annuitants/Beneficiaries – 117,650
Oldest Retiree –106 (as of August 24, 2017)
Oldest Active – 84 (as of August 24, 2017)

TRS Investments: 

2017 Return +12.6%

2016 Return +0.1%

2015 Return +4.0%

2014 Return +17.4%

2013 Return +12.8%

2012 Return +0.76%

2011 Return +23.6%

2010 Return +12.9%

2009 Return -22.7%

2008 Return -5.0%

(TRS Investments Totals Net of Fees)

30-year Return +8.1%
20-year Return +6.9%
10-year Return +4.8%
TRS Funded Ratio at 39.8%  
TRS $48.8 Billion, as of June 30, 2017

from Rich Frankenfeld, Director of Outreach 
Teachers' Retirement System of the State of Illinois

Friday, November 10, 2017

On Academic Precarity of the Faculty Adjunct by Ali Colleen Neff

“…Academic precarity is the year-to-year or class-to-class, contingent, underpaid and labor-intensive employment status most Ph.D.s now have to navigate while seeking a protected tenure-track position.
“After, say, eight years of graduate school, this tacks on another two to four to ten years at a $20-$40,000/year salary. [College adjuncts] have crossed over into [their] thirties and forties in sustained poverty, now separated from [their] graduate communities and parceled into departments and towns in which [they] have no belonging or protection. 
“All the while, [they] must stay on the academic job market, an extremely demanding labor that costs up to 800 unpaid hours a year and expensive attendance at conferences and interviews. These jobs are unprotected, shorter-term, and often require moving to far-flung college towns from year to year. 
“The precariat is charged with developing entire new courses on short notice…, teaching large classes of students whom they'll never see again, and biting their nails in hopes this will be the year they are going to get chosen. 

They are more than thirsty: they have been drawn into the academic shell game long enough and far enough to have, semester by semester, staked their financial, physical, familial and mental health on it.
“Yet with every passing day, they see that the career they had invested immense loans and a decade of work to build is hostile, empty, and dangerous to the most vulnerable in the Wild West of rapid defunding and administrative power grabs. 

This is not because they are suckers; this is because higher education is in undeniable crisis. It is imploding, suddenly, leaving then scrambling to understand the circumstances in which [college adjuncts'] lives [are] unfolding…
Precarity is the phenomenon of being on the edge: one lost contract, one departmental bully, one nasty student evaluation and there is no job… Can [they] switch careers on such short notice, in a different town, with no savings? Jump on a contract--any contract, anywhere, for any pay–until [they] can sort it out on nights and weekends. Do [they] retrain to do HR or Admin or tax preparation and forfeit the research [they] have done, or do [they] follow the conventional wisdom that if [they] are tough enough to hang in there, and brilliant enough to shine through, [they'll] be the one who gets the job and gets to be the professor?
“Precarity is a holding zone that entails more overwork, more debt, and the expiration of passionate graduate research for the day-to-day tasks [college adjuncts] take on in order to show [their] department that [they] are worthy of a good recommendation, even as they treat [them] as day laborers. 

Precarity is hope that sustains the past promise of hope and into the immediacy of survival. Precarity is humiliating. Precarity quickly becomes a stigma when [college adjuncts] are not-good-enough for too many semesters in a row…”
For the complete article, On Academic Precarity by Ali Colleen Neff, click here. 
For 58 articles on the plight of adjunct faculty, click here. 

Wednesday, November 8, 2017


This is a computer-generated image of a virus. Does it remind you of someone?

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Continuing Demoralization of University and College Adjunct Faculty

It is well known that adjunct faculty work without job security, without the benefit of healthcare, and without an ethical living wage. Most universities’ priorities are their development of building projects and technology, management of revenues and investments and reducing operating costs, administrative/bureaucratic positions and salaries, and athletic programs and their resources. “…The truth is that teaching is a diminishing priority in universities. Years of American Association of University Professors (AAUP) reports indicate that budgets for instruction are proportionally shrinking. Universities now devote less than one-third of their expenditures to instruction. Meanwhile, administrative positions have increased at more than 10 times the rate of tenured faculty positions. [Of course], sports and amenities are much more fun [and profitable]…” (Birmingham). 

There is no equity for adjunct instructors. Courses staffed with contingent adjunct faculty cost the same student tuition and provide the same credits staffed by tenured full-time faculty. Adjunct faculty grade compositions and tests, write recommendations and advise students, devise and develop classes, create lesson plans and course materials and improve curricula, among other unpaid responsibilities. 

There are no due process protections for adjunct faculty. There is no equal pay for equal work. There is no professional advancement. There is no equity in the lack of health insurance and retirement benefits available for adjunct faculty. There is little to no inclusion in the way higher education’s formal decision-making procedures and structures are made. Indeed, adjunct faculty are simply part-time contractors, “lecturers,” or non-essential “marginalized” hires who are disenfranchised from high-level governance and required to carry out most of the responsibilities of the full-time faculty (and sometimes at multiple institutions), but for less than one-fifth of the salary of the full-time faculty and without meaningful job security from one semester to another. “The insecure, overworked adjunct lecturers employed en masse at most institutions of higher education… have been reduced to an army of indentured wage slaves, with little or no power [and] benefits” (Giroux, “Why Teachers Matter in Dark Times”). 

“The abysmal conditions of adjunct faculty are not byproducts of an economy… They are intentional. Universities rely upon a revolving door of new [M.A.s and] PH.D.s who work temporarily for unsustainable wages before giving up and being replaced by next year’s surplus doctorates” (Birmingham). 

It is unfortunately verifiable that universities and colleges do not make long-term commitments to adjunct faculty. “Based on data from the American Community Survey, 31 percent of part-time faculty are living near or below the federal poverty line. [Moreover], according to the UC Berkeley Labor Center, one in four families of part-time faculty are enrolled in at least one public assistance program like food stamps and Medicaid or qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit” (Fredrickson).

“Adjunct professors earned a median of $2,700 per semester-long class during the 2012-13 academic year, according to an AAUP survey of thousands of part-time faculty members. [Most adjunct faculty at Benedictine University, where I have taught part-time for 8½ years, currently earn $2,700 per semester during the 2017-18 academic year]. While varying class loads make it difficult to calculate the typical adjunct’s annual earnings, NPR reported in 2013 that the average yearly pay for [cheap contingent appointments] was between $20,000 and $25,000, and a March 2015 survey conducted by Pacific Standard among nearly 500 adjuncts found that a majority earn less than $20,000 a year from teaching…” (McKenna).  

Though it is said that this economic privation is the result of budget rationalizations, what undoubtedly exists is the perpetuation of academic, corporate welfare. Most recent data reveal that “in 2016-17, the average salary for presidents [at a typical corporatized university] was $334,617… The average salary for chief academic officers in 2016-17 was $202,048… [Conversely], the average salary for full professors in 2016–17 was $102,402; the average salary for associate professors was $79,654, and the average salary for assistant professors was $69,206. Part-time faculty members—the largest segment of the academic labor force—saw their average total pay from a single institution [at] $20,508 in 2016–17…” (“Visualizing Change: The Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession, 2016-17”).

Equally demoralizing is that most full-time faculty do not sympathize with the adjunct faculty’s plight. Adjunct faculty are generally without help in their hardship. The “tenure-adjunct divide has bifurcated the faculty between the older craft producers and… [low-] waged laborers. [Privileged] tenured faculty, whatever their stated level of solidarity or sympathy for the struggles of… proletarianized academic workers may be, are reluctant to directly intervene or ally with them…” (Siegelbaum). What is more, most tenured faculty are unconcerned about the slow moral dissolution of higher education and the threats to their own security, even though these debasing administrative trends and practices persist. 

Not surprisingly, at Benedictine University where there is declining student enrollment but increasing student tuition ($33,900 a year—though only a fraction of this amount pays for college adjunct instruction), full-time tenured faculty are given priority for available classes each semester; thus, an adjunct faculty member’s originally-designed course will be dropped from the core curriculum, no matter how competent and dedicated the adjunct instructor is and respected by students.

Nevertheless, if the reduction of courses taught by adjunct faculty is one of Benedictine University’s severe budgetary constraints, “when contingent appointments are used, they should include job security and due process protections. Contingent faculty appointments, like all faculty appointments, should include: the full range of faculty responsibilities (teaching, scholarship, service); comparable compensation for comparable work; assurance of continuing employment after a reasonable opportunity for successive reviews; inclusion in institutional governance structures; and appointment and review processes that involve faculty peers and follow accepted academic due process. 

“The proportion of faculty appointments that are on the tenure line should be increased. This can be done by changing the status of faculty members currently holding non-tenure-track appointments. Individuals holding contingent appointments are offered tenure-eligible reappointments. Creating new tenure-line appointments. New tenure-line positions are created and open searches are held for candidates to fill them. 

“In both cases, transition to a higher proportion of tenured faculty should be accomplished primarily through attrition, retirements and, where appropriate, ‘grandfathering’ of currently contingent faculty into tenured positions. Faculty in contingent positions should not bear the cost of transition…” (Background Facts on Contingent Faculty).

It is reprehensible that universities are becoming “increasingly oblivious to the demands of a democracy... [Universities]… disregard [their adjunct] faculty and resemble institutions governed by myopic accountants who should be ashamed of what they are proud of. The university needs to be reclaimed… where administrators… can imagine what a free and substantive democracy might look like and what it means to make education relevant to such a crucial pedagogical and political task. This could be the first step in taking back higher education as a precondition for developing a broad-based social movement for the defense of [any university’s mission for ‘Dignity and the Common Good’], one capable of both challenging the regime of casino capitalism and re-imagining a society in which democracy lives up to its promises and ideals” (Giroux, “Beyond Neoliberal Miseducation”).

It is stated in the Benedictine University Center for Mission Identity, “[that the university’s] curriculum, policies and activities draw on the wisdom of the Church regarding ways to build a just society and live lives of holiness in the modern world. To that end, the university engages key themes of modern Catholic social teaching identified by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: life and dignity of the human person; call to family, community, and participation; rights and responsibilities; option for the poor and vulnerable; the dignity of work and the rights of workers; solidarity; and care for God's creation…” (University Mission, Vision and Commitment Statements). 

Indeed, “[f]or the [Catholic] Church, there is no distinction between defending human life and promoting the dignity of the human person. Pope Benedict XVI writes in Caritas in Veritate [Charity in Truth] that ‘The Church forcefully maintains this link between life ethics and social ethics, fully aware that a society lacks solid foundations when, on the one hand, it asserts values such as the dignity of the person, justice and peace, but then, on the other hand, radically acts to the contrary by allowing or tolerating a variety of ways in which human life is devalued and violated, especially where it is weak or marginalized’” (no. 15) (Human Life and Dignity). 

Surely, flagrant indifference to the mental and physical well-being of adjunct faculty is incompatible with the adage “cura personalis” (care for the entire person). What remains to be seen at universities like Benedictine and across the nation is the rejoinder to an essential ethical question: “To what extent can universities be considered [moral and just] while engaging in practices or ideologies that run contrary to [their Mission, Vision, and Commitment Statements]? ...Catholic universities have to decide whether or not running a [consumerist/capitalist academic structure] that utilizes [and exploits their core adjunct faculty]… fundamentally contradicts Catholic teaching [and its ideals]. Adjunct pay, [their lack of benefits and precarious job security… are] not just a [Benedictine] issue — it is an industry wide issue...” (“The Fordham Ram Unfair Adjunct Wages Go Against Jesuit Values”).

-Glen Brown
Adjunct Faculty Instructor

Works Cited:

“Background Facts on Contingent Faculty.” American Association of University Professors. https://www.aaup.org/issues/contingency/background-facts.  Accessed 26 Oct. 2017. 

Birmingham, Kevin. “The Great Shame of Our Profession.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 12 Feb. 2017, http://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Great-Shame-of-Our/239148Accessed 23 Oct. 2017. 

Giroux, Henry A. “Beyond Neoliberal Miseducation.” Truth-Out, 19, March 2014,  http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/22548-henry-giroux-beyond-neoliberal-miseducation. Accessed 28, Oct. 2017. 

Giroux, Henry A. “Why Teachers Matter in Dark Times.” Truth-Out, 10 May 2016, http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/35970-why-teachers-matter-in-dark-times. Accessed 26, Oct. 2017. 

“The Fordham Ram Unfair Adjunct Wages Go Against Jesuit Values.” Editorial. Fordhamram.com. 5 Oct. 2016, 
https://fordhamram.com/2016/10/05/editorial-unfair-adjunct-wages-go-against-jesuit-values/Accessed 24 Oct. 2017.

Fredrickson, Caroline. “There Is No Excuse for How Universities Treat Adjuncts.” The Atlantic. 15 Sept. 2015, 
https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/09/higher-education-college-adjunct-professor-salary/404461/Accessed 23 Oct. 2017.

“Human Life and Dignity.” United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/index.cfmAccessed 25 Oct. 2017.

McKenna, Laura. “The College President-to-Adjunct Pay Ratio.” The Atlantic. 24 Sept. 2015, https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/09/income-inequality-in-higher-education-the-college-president-to-adjunct-pay-ratio/407029Accessed 23 Oct. 2017.

Siegelbaum, Sami.  “Once More the Values of the Humanities.”  Counter Punch. 21 Oct. 2016,  https://www.counterpunch.org/2016/10/21/once-more-the-value-of-the-humanities/Accessed 23 Oct. 2017. 

“University Mission, Vision and Commitment Statements.” Benedictine University Center for Mission Identity. http://www.ben.edu/center-for-mission-and-identity/identity/index.cfmAccessed 25 Oct. 2017.

“Visualizing Change: The Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession, 2016-17.” American Association of University Professors. March-April 2017, https://www.aaup.org/file/FCS_2016-17_nc.pdfAccessed 24 Oct. 2017.