New employment rules at the College of DuPage have drawn fire from some part-time professors who fear they may soon lose their jobs.
The state's largest community college will begin phasing out instructors who are receiving a pension through the State Universities Retirement System, which manages retirement benefits for 65 community colleges, state universities and other agencies in Illinois.
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The rules primarily would impact professors who taught full-time at COD or another institution, retired, began collecting a pension and then decided to teach part-time at COD.
Linda Sands-Vankerk, the college's vice president of human resources, said in a memo to employees the new rules are in response to "return to work" pension legislation that "substantially limits the college's ability to employ or re-employ" someone receiving an annuity through SURS.
COD officials have had discussions with other community colleges, SURS representatives and lawyers to interpret the new legislation. They say other schools are implementing similar policies.
Starting Aug. 1, if an instructor at COD is paid more than 40 percent of their pre-retirement earnings in a given year, the college will be required to pay a penalty to SURS equal to the instructor's full year pension. The college won't have to pay a penalty on behalf of retirees who received a "lump sum" distribution, those in the SURS self-managed plan, or positions that were 100 percent grant funded.
As a result, COD officials have decided teachers receiving a pension from SURS won't be rehired starting in the summer of 2014. Other employees at COD who are receiving a pension from SURS will be terminated June 30, 2014, unless their positions are grant funded.
The college's vice president of academic affairs can approve exceptions based on "critical need," Sands-Vankerk wrote in the memo.
Starting now, college officials say they won't hire new employees already getting a pension from SURS.
They're also putting rules into place that would forbid a professor from teaching at COD while also working at another SURS institution.
Sands-Vankerk said the state legislation is an attempt to ensure employees of SURS institutions are contributing into the system and avoid the perception of "double dipping."
"We understand this is a lot of information and these are very challenging times," she wrote in the memo. "New and revised legislation is an ongoing reality. Illinois especially has huge economic issues it is trying to resolve including funding of pensions."
Colleen McCoy, president of the College of DuPage Adjuncts Association, said the new legislation was "stressing our membership to the breaking point," but she doesn't think the new rules imposed by COD's administration were meant to punish anyone.
"The state law came out and they did what was most expedient," McCoy said. "The administration point of view is it's easier for them to paint with a broad brush ... let's get rid of every annuitant so we don't have to manage it -- which makes sense from an administration point of view.
"What we're trying to come up with is practical, actionable solutions that, yes, this perhaps could be administered in a way that would be less punitive to our members."
McCoy said when the legislation was drafted, lawmakers were likely thinking of the person making $100,000 -- not adjuncts at COD, who at most make $25,000 a year.
"Forty percent of that is not a lot of money," she said.
COD spokesman Joe Moore said in order for annuitants to continue to work at COD under the new legislation, officials would have to track those instructors individually, person by person, to make sure their earnings do not exceed the legislated cap.
But Moore said the college doesn't have the capability to do that.
COD estimates the new rules could affect about 100 part-time instructors who are annuitants. There are as many as 700 people in the adjunct association at one time.
One such instructor is Keith Johnson, who has taught sociology classes at COD for the past three years, and also teaches at Oakton Community College. He currently receives a pension from the University of Illinois.
"You pass a law to deal with a handful of double dippers, then make it impossible for a retired college professor to teach a course. I'm sure that wasn't the intention, (but) COD has interpreted it that way, which is bizarre and unreasonable," Johnson said.
Moore said by implementing the new rules, the college "would be losing the experience of some faculty who have taught for many years, but this does provide the opportunity to bring in people with new experiences and ideas."
"We are committed to providing the best education possible to our students, and accordingly, we will only hire qualified, skilled faculty," Moore said.
It's unclear how many new instructors will be hired, but it's possible current adjuncts who will be taking on larger class loads could assist with staffing needs.
The college is creating the new position of "lecturer" for some nontenured adjunct faculty members who will teach more classes than the average adjunct professor, but still fewer than a full-time professor. Those instructors will be eligible for health care insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
But at the same time, COD officials have decided part-timers who hold multiple positions at the college won't be able to work more than one job there starting with the fall semester.
For example, a part-time laboratory assistant won't also be able to work in the library.
Employees who exceed the 30-hour threshold as designated in the legislation "could result in having to offer unintended health care benefits," Sands-Vankerk wrote in the memo.
The action is consistent with what other community colleges are doing, she said.
There are some exceptions, such as a coaches who will be able to teach a class related to their sport, or counselors who will be able to teach some education courses.