Concern pension problems responsible for UI's "brain drain"

Published 08/09 2013 03:06PM

Updated 08/09 2013 03:10PM

CHAMPAIGN -- Some worry the UI will endure a "brain drain" now that one of its most well-known professors retired. Nick Holonyak, Jr., created the LED light. Now, other faculty members fear he could be the first of many to leave if the state doesn't solve the pension crisis. WCIA-3's Amanda Porterfield has the story.

His mind has been a backbone of the UI for decades.

"Every ten years, he gets a great idea to improve the world. And, LED just turned out to be one of the biggest ones."

Nick Holonyak, Jr., came up with many of those ideas in this now-empty chair. Professor Milton Feng says his mentor's dedication never dimmed, even with severe back problems which grew worse throughout his years of success.

"He treated this place like fun. He had a lot of fun here. So, he never took a vacation in his 50-years."

But Feng and others in the department say back problems aren't the only straw that ended his career at the university. They say he was also concerned about his pension.

"Nobody wants to be in a situation when they're hurt because they decided to continue trying to do their job."

Without enough to go around, they say older faculty members are worried, if they don't retire soon, a lot of their money could be gone.

"It's mostly the senior faculty who are concerned, but those are the people who basically define the reputation of the organization."

Professors say losing those long-time faculty members could cause a domino effect, lowering enrollment, alumni donations and even the university's rating. Leaders say the school hasn't seen an increase in retirements so far.

Holoynak's colleagues say they'll continue work which will make him proud, but his move makes their futures seem a little darker.

"People who are being punished for the situation the state is in are not the people who got us into that situation to begin with."

A website dedicated to higher education states last year the UI saw a spike in retirement. In 2011, 223 from the Urbana-Champaign campus retired. That number more than doubled in 2012 when the pension problems started.

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