KINGSTON - The Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education held their regular meeting on Monday evening, discussing a number of issues, including the newly proposed University Retirement Incentive Program (URIP) at the University of Rhode Island. Although no vote was taken for action, the plan will be discussed among many governmental parties, including the state Senate and the Governor’s office.
“We are talking with a variety of stakeholders about our intentions and the benefits for both the University of Rhode Island and the state with the program,” said URI President David M. Dooley. “We want to take the time to move forward with this plan, particularly around job creation and economic growth.”
Dooley has created a plan which offers a one-time payment to retiring teachers and non-classified, or clerical and maintenance, positions of 40 percent of their current salary. A minimum payment of $20,000 is given to university employees that are 62 years or older with 10 years of service who are eligible for retirement after October 1, 2009 and prior to July 1, 2012.
The program, which is voluntary, has been vetted by the Board of Governors as a one-time opportunity for faculty while providing URI with the flexibility to cultivate a more competitive research and academic environment.
“The retirement program does two things that are vital,” said Dooley. “Primarily, it is designed to reconfigure the most important asset of the university; our personnel.”
“We can re-align our resources, creating flexibility in our workforce, which will position the university much better for the future,” he added. “This also allows us to lower personnel costs and slow the growth rate of those costs over time.”
Dooley, since taking the position of president at URI in 2009, has stressed the importance of increasing the university’s research capabilities in areas such as the sciences, and also providing more opportunities for students to learn in a diverse, multi-cultural atmosphere through language study and the social sciences. The retirement program is aimed at cutting student costs and bringing down the numbers of large lecture hall courses.
“We want to incentivize retirement and hire those who are coming in at lower pay-scales, cutting the costs of benefits paid out by the university,” said Dooley. “We need to maintain the affordability of our education at URI and these are cost measures we can implement going forward.”
The average salary of a retirement-eligible professor is $165,000, while that of newly hired assistant professors rests at $95,000, a savings of $70,000 for each position. The university currently has 344 teaching and non-classified staff who qualify for the retirement program, including 197 professors and 147 professional staffers.
The university’s one-time retirement program differs from the state’s Employee Retirement System (ERS) in that it does not pay out benefits to retired employees for a long period of time and thus eases the fiscal burden of the university. URIP is also a 401K Defined Contribution plan, while the ERS is Defined Benefit. URIP-eligible employees cannot qualify for the ERS program.
Classified positions, or those who hold clerical or maintenance positions at URI, are not eligible in the plan, but can participate in the state’s ERS. Members of classified positions at URI did, however, express the desire for inclusion into URIP Monday evening.
“I have been around the university for a long time, over 30 years,” said Joseph Limanni, Assistant Director at URI’s Office of Residential Life. “If the Board has any incentives for university employees to retire, we want them to consider us 20 to 24 people in the classified services. We have been here a long time and it would be a great plus for us.”
The reduction of costs through the URIP program also provides the university with greater budget savings in order to keep tuition rates more stable. The state’s Fiscal Year 2013 budget request, which was mandated but unfunded, requires the university to increase its contribution to the state ERS by $2.8 million. The state has also imposed an additional $2 million payment from URI for the State Appropriation in Fiscal Year 2013. These are costs which may become too burdensome for the university if savings are not found elsewhere.
Ultimately, university officials see the one-time retirement program as a great opportunity to foster a more vibrant research and educational community with the hiring of diverse teaching positions, while creating savings which will allow students to afford such services.
“I know that this is a difficult time for our state,” said Lorne Adrain, Chair of the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education. “The URIP is one of a number of things to consider in the allocation of our scarce resources.”