16 Years Later, MPSERS Continues to Dig into Universities' Pockets

by Marcia Goodrich, magazine editor

Suppose you are a business owner shopping around for a more-affordable benefits plan for your employees, and you find a better deal with a different company. This new plan will save you and your customers millions while still providing your employees with quality benefits.

Suppose that you switch companies, but then the state orders you to keep paying premiums to the old company too, just as you had before. Suppose you have no voice in your premium or in the benefits it is funding. All you get to do is write out a big check every year to the old company. Forever.

This nightmare scenario is an annual reality for several of Michigan's universities, who are now pleading their case before the state. With state pension reform on the horizon, they hope legislators are finally willing to listen.

Until 1996, these seven schools, including Michigan Tech, Northern Michigan, Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Ferris State, Central Michigan, and Lake Superior State, were the state's only public universities participating in the Michigan Public School Employees' Retirement System.

Then, in 1997, the schools stopped adding new employees to the MPSERS plan. Instead, they were covered by other university benefit plans. Under most circumstances, you would think that the universities' MPSERS liability would gradually decrease. Instead, the opposite happened.

Under state law, MPSERS can still continue to collect from the schools, not just for employees still in the program, but also for employees who would have been eligible in succeeding years. And, thanks in part to retirement health-care costs, those bills have skyrocketed. In 1997, the seven schools paid a total of $25.3 million. By 2011-12, these universities are expected to pay MPSERS $48.9 million, despite adding no new employees to the system for 16 years.

"MPSERS assesses us not only for our current MPSERS employees, but also for employees who would have been members if we hadn't withdrawn," said President Glenn Mroz. "These are people who are covered by our own University health-care and retirement program who will never see any benefit from these payments.

"Even though we have opted out, we are being charged as though we opted in," he said. "Michigan Tech's 2011-12 payment to MPSERS is expected to be $5.6 million. If all our employees were on our current program and MPSERS were out of the picture, our costs would only be $800,000."

The potential savings--$4.8 million--amounts to $682 per student enrolled at Michigan Tech.

State support of all public universities has eroded, but the MPSERS costs have hit the seven universities particularly hard. "We not only had to absorb a $7.5 million cut to our state funding, we also had to give back almost 11 percent of our state appropriation to MPSERS," Mroz said. "We are being asked to cut everything, but we aren't allowed to cut that."

In addition, none of the seven universities have any members on the panel that determines MPSERS benefits. By law, it consists of active and retired public school employees appointed by the governor.

"We have no representation whatsoever," said Mroz, "and so we have no control over the benefits we are paying for."

To address the problem, the seven universities are asking the state legislature to allow them to determine the scope and design of the health-care plan they offer to their own MPSERS retirees.

In addition, they want to address who pays an employee's pension costs. Currently, the employee's last employer is completely responsible for their retirement. In other words, if Michigan Tech hires anyone from a Michigan public school, and that person retires from Michigan Tech, the University is liable for that person's entire retirement. The universities would like to see those expenses shared proportionately by both employers.

Senate Bill 1040, which would overhaul the MPSERS system, doesn't yet include these provisions, but Mroz hopes the legislature will act on the universities' grievances.

"We are at the point where we are paying 53 percent of our MPSERS employees' salaries into the program," said Mroz. "This is an unsustainable cost, for universities, for our students and for the tax-paying public."

Sexual Assault Awareness Month Initiative

by Danny Messinger, student writer

Today, faculty and staff will receive invitations to participate in a month-long initiative aimed at educating the campus community about the dangers of sexual assault and the many places to turn for support.

The Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) will be sending a letter and a teal ribbon--representing sexual assault awareness--to every staff and faculty member, asking them to display their ribbon (an office door or window is suggested) throughout the month of April.

Today's letter outlines findings from a recent survey of 5,000 college students, citing high school and college rape statistics and the disturbing fact that more than half of high school students believe forced sex is acceptable under some circumstances.

CDI hopes that the ribbon campaign will help bring attention to startling sexual assault statistics and will remind the campus of resources for victims of sexual aggression.

Faculty and staff who have questions about the initiative or who did not receive a ribbon may contact Renee Wells, assistant director, Center for Diversity and Inclusion, at rrwells@mtu.edu or 487-2920.

Tech Express Services Moving

All card services are moving from the Campus Bookstore to the Library and IT Service Center as of Monday, April 2. This will include Michigan Tech ID cards, department cards and other badges. Express Cash, Big Dog Bucks, and Top Dog Meals sales, along with Quad Core Fitness Club memberships will now be handled by the IT Service Center as well.

Tech Express can still be used to view your balances and transactions as well as add money or meals to your card.

Services that will be staying in the Bookstore include:
* Mailbox and locker rental
* Postage stamps
* Kodak photo printing
* Laminating
* UPS shipping

Reminder: Senate Election Underway

The University Senate will hold an election for 14 positions on 10 different
committees. Nominations are due by 5 p.m., today.

Current terms expire Aug. 31 and must be filled by the end of this semester.

You may nominate others if you have their approval; or individuals may nominate

Here are the positions and those eligible:

Faculty At Large Senators--all faculty
Academic Integrity Committee--all faculty
Athletics Council--tenured faculty
Conflict of Interest Committee--all faculty/staff
Faculty Distinguished Service Award Committee--all faculty
Faculty Review Committee--all faculty
Misconduct in Research, Scholarly, and Creative Endeavors Inquiry Committee--all
Michigan Tech Enterprise Corporation (MTEC) Board--tenured faculty
Public Safety Oversight Committee--all faculty/staff
Sabbatical Leave Committee--tenured faculty

For more invitation, contact Jon Riehl, University Senate Elections Committee,
at 487-2197 or at riehlj@mtu.edu .

Eighth Annual ESC/BRC Student Research Forum

All faculty, staff and students are invited to attend the Eighth Annual ESC/BRC Student Research Forum, held from 3 to 5 p.m., Friday, March 30, in the Noblet atrium. Awards and pizza will follow.

Undergraduate and graduate students working in ecosystem science and biotechnology fields will present their research posters in separate competitions. Odd-numbered posters will present from 3 to 4 p.m., and even-numbered will present from 4 to 5 p.m.

To view the list of participants and their abstracts, see Graduate Students and Undergraduate Students.

For more information, contact Jill Fisher, program manager for the ESC, at jhfisher@mtu.edu , or Mary Tassava, program manager for the BRC, at mltassav@mtu.edu .

WGGL-FM Gets New Transmitter

Minnesota Public Radio is installing a new transmitter for WGGL-FM, the public radio station in Houghton. The work will involve a loss of radio signal from time to time, sometimes for several hours, but when it is completed, WGGL's signal will be stronger and clearer, say MPR representatives. Michigan Tech is an educational sponsor of MPR and WGGL-FM.

Seminar Addresses "Impostor Syndrome"

submitted by the Office for Institutional Diversity

The Office for Institutional Diversity will host a a workshop featuring a webinar by Valerie Young, founder of Changing Course and an expert on the Imposter Syndrome.

The workshop will be held from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., followed by a lunch from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m., Monday, April 23, in Memorial Union Ballroom A2.

During the workshop participants will:
* Learn about the Imposter Syndrome
* Explore tips for reframing their imposter
* Develop a toolbox for working with other imposters

Those who reserve a spot by Friday, April 13, will receive a complimentary book by Young.

To register, contact Carol Argentati at caargent@mtu.edu .

ATM Seminar Series

The 2012 ATM Seminar Series continues with two PhD student seminars at 4 p.m., Monday, April 2, in Fisher 129. Light refreshments will be provided. Please bring your own mug.

Jianqiu Zheng will present "Nitrous Oxide Emissions From a Maize/Soybean Rotation Following a Precipitation Event."

Yunzhu Zhao will present "Molecular Characterization of Supercooled Cloud Water Organic Composition Using Ultrahigh-resolution FT-ICR Mass Spectrometry."

Job Posting

Staff job descriptions are available in Human Resources or at http://www.admin.mtu.edu/hro/postings . For more information regarding staff positions, call 487-2280 or email jobs@mtu.edu .

Faculty job descriptions can be found at http://www.admin.mtu.edu/hro/facpers/facvac.htm . For more information regarding faculty positions, contact the academic department in which the position is posted.

Personal Computer Specialist (2 openings)
Information Technology Services and Security (ITSS)
Internal-only posting
Apply using new online system at https://www.jobs.mtu.edu .

Note: Human Resources is transitioning to an online application process for the job posting above. To read the notice to applicants, see Posting.

Michigan Technological University is an equal opportunity educational institution/equal opportunity employer.

In the News

Associate Professor John Vucetich and Professor Emeritus Rolf Peterson (both of SFRES) were featured on Michigan Public Radio for a pioneering effort to solicit research funds from the public at a recently established crowd-funding site for scientists, called Petridish.

Peterson and Vucetich hope to raise $10,000 within 30 days to help pay for DNA analysis of wolf scat they collected from Isle Royale National Park this winter. There is no funding in their research grants to pay for the DNA analysis, which can help them determine how many female wolves remain on the isolated island. See NPR.

Company Weekly Visits

Companies and organizations routinely come to campus to recruit students throughout the year, and Career Services announces those visits each week.

Direct your students to http://www.career.mtu.edu for future interviewing and recruiting opportunities.

Monday, April 2
LaSalle Technology Group

Thursday, April 5
Integrys Energy Group Inc.

New Funding

Assistant Professor Amy Marcarelli (Biological Sciences) and Associate Professor Casey Huckins (Biological Sciences) have received $7,500 from the Huron Mountain Wildlife Foundation for a project, "Ecosystem Response to Sediment Accumulation and Riverine Geomorphology at Reach, River, and Regional Scales: Continuing Studies in the Salmon Trout River."