Viewpoints

Napolitano is wrong on pensions

University of California president Janet Napolitano listens to speakers at a UC Board of Regents meeting in San Francisco, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014.
University of California president Janet Napolitano listens to speakers at a UC Board of Regents meeting in San Francisco, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014. AP

The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board praised UC President Janet Napolitano’s revised retirement plan for new UC hires. (“UC workers will be fine under pension deal,” Editorials, March 13). The board is wrong for two main reasons.

Napolitano formulated the plan privately. UC faculty and staff only heard of the details on Feb. 15 and had only one month to respond. In that month, all 10 campus faculty senates denounced the plan for ignoring faculty consultation and for the perceived results.

UC has a history of shared governance, which Napolitano has routinely ignored. Her repeated dismissal of genuine consultation and collaboration tears at the fabric of the university.

Second, in 2013, Napolitano hired the consulting firm Mercer to investigate UC faculty salaries and benefits. Mercer’s conclusions state that UC’s faculty salaries are 12 percent below its comparison universities, health benefits are 7 percent below comparison institutions, and retirement benefits are 2 percent below comparable schools.

UC pension benefits are anemic in comparison to others, and Napolitano is planning to cut it further.

Since the study was done, UC has cut retiree health benefits, while health insurance premiums have risen. My wife’s and my health insurance costs have risen $2,200 since two years ago.

UC long has paid less than other prestigious universities but made up for less pay with generous benefits, a defined benefit plan and generous retiree health benefits. As a former chair of two departments, I know how important these benefits are in recruiting top talent.

That has now changed. UC will pay less, and for people earning the most – in business, law, economics, engineering and the health sciences, including nursing – retirement will depend on a reduced defined benefit combined with a 403(b) dependent on the whims of the market.

UC has lost top talent.

In my own field of English, very few professors will be affected by the salary cap limit on defined benefits. But in the fields where competition is fierce, we will lose talent to other schools.

That will be bad for UC and for the state, which profits from the outstanding education UC students receive and from the discoveries of UC researchers.

Peter L. Hays, a professor emeritus of English, UC Davis, can be reached at plhays@ucdavis.edu.

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