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Amid cuts, employees consider early retirement incentives

On Feb. 12, decisions about further faculty cuts will be announced. One week after then, faculty who plan to participate in the Voluntary Retirement Incentive Program must turn in election forms.

Heather Gruber, classical studies professor, said faculty cuts decided on Feb. 12 could affect faculty from any department. She gave an example: though many students partake in the English program at Concordia, faculty members from that department could still be let go.

So far, three tenured faculty members have been let go from language departments:

Stephan Grollman, associate professor of German, Zacharie Petnkeu, associate professor of French, and Milda Halvorson, associate professor of Norwegian.

Mary Rice, chair of the world languages department, said these cuts have left her German and French departments with one professor each. Moreover, when Halvorson leaves after the 2016-17 academic year, Norwegian will no longer be taught at Concordia.

French and German will still offer courses and both departments have drafted proposals for reconfigured majors in hopes that existing and incoming students can still major in these areas.

On Jan. 31, Colton Debrowski, a sophomore double majoring in French and Chinese, joined a group of students studying under cut majors as they printed and hung over 200 posters around campus protesting the college’s recent decision.

Debrowski said he was relieved to find out from a professor that French may still be offered as a major for incoming students, but will miss having two professors to teach him French.

“I think my Chinese major is pretty effective with just one professor, but I really appreciate both of my French professors because they have completely different backgrounds,” Debrowski said. “With one professor, you only get one person’s perspective and you are limited to only their knowledge.”

Of the remaining faculty, many will have an option to retire early.

The VRIP is available for full-time faculty members who are at least 55 years old, have completed at least 10 years of full-time service at Concordia by May 31 and their combined age and years of service equal 75 or more.

Of Concordia employees, 66 prove eligible for the VRIP: 63 are faculty members, two are athletic staff and one is library staff.

The benefits of the program include a separation payment equal to one year of the faculty member’s base salary as of March 1, 2016, and continued eligibility for the faculty member’s children to attend Concordia and receive a 90 percent tuition allowance. The length of eligibility is to be equal to the faculty’s years of service with Concordia. For example, a faculty member with 10 years of service would receive 10 years of continued eligibility for his or her dependent children.

Hank Tkachuk, communications professor, said he is strongly considering the VRIP. With 44 years of employment, he is Concordia’s longest standing professor; he has been eligible for retirement for two years. He said faculty must consider a few factors that accompany early retirement, for instance, retirees must find alternative medical insurance, as Concordia will no longer provide that benefit for them.

“Of all considerations, that’s probably the biggest one because health insurance is very expensive,” Tkachuk said. He said many faculty members could use their spouses’ medical insurance or Medicare if able.

For anyone considering employment elsewhere, the VRIP serves as a good financial incentive, according to Tkachuk. It’s also a plus for those who planned to retire soon anyway, but younger faculty will likely need to seek employment elsewhere.

“I know a number of people in my department who are eligible but none of them are thinking twice about it,” Tkachuk said. “They are not even close to retirement.”

Tkachuk said that of the people he knows and has talked to, he is the only one considering the VRIP. He also said that some students have expressed that the program is insulting, but he has tried to correct them. He believes the College wants everyone to benefit from it.

“It truly is a voluntary program,” Tkchuk said. “No one is being pressured.We are in an unusual situation and it makes, I think, good sense to try and correct it by starting with people who are willing to do it.”

The college will approve or deny eligible faculty members’ participation in the VRIP based on whether the member’s retirement would seriously disrupt an academic department or program, whether the college has received more applications than can be approved and whether granting participation would not be in the overall best interest of the college.

Between March 1 and March 9, 2016, approved faculty must sign the VRIP Agreement. Their signatures relinquish tenure or other contracted statuses and end their employment by Aug. 31, 2016. A lump sum payment is also made on Aug. 31.

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