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First Donohue Asst. Professor Is Named

Shnitser, an expert on public pensions and retirement security will join BC Law this fall

Natalya Shnitser (Photo via Yale Law School)

By Sean Smith | Chronicle Editor

Published: Apr. 24, 2014

Natalya Shnitser, whose research focuses on the hot-button issues of public pensions and retirement security in the US, has been appointed the inaugural David and Pamela Donohue Assistant Professor in business law and will join the Boston College Law School this fall.

Since 2011, Shnitser has been an associate research scholar and lecturer at Yale Law School, and the John R. Raben/Sullivan & Cromwell Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Corporate Law. In addition to pensions and retirement security, her primary teaching and research interests are in business associations; wills, trusts, and estates; securities regulation, and federal income taxation.

“We’re very pleased to welcome Natalya to the BC Law family,” said BC Law Dean Vincent Rougeau. “She is a dynamic young scholar and a wonderful teacher. Her wide expertise in business law, retirement security and pensions, tax, and securities regulation adds to our strength in these subjects, and builds on current areas of excellence at the University, such as the work being done at the Center for Retirement Research. She is an example of our ongoing commitment to bringing the very best scholars to campus.”

In her empirical scholarship analyzing the institutional design of US public pension plans, Shnitser has found that that greater constraints on legislative control over funding decisions – typically through the delegation of control to pension system boards – have been associated with better funding discipline. Conversely, liability-pooling arrangements that have shrouded individual employer responsibility for underfunding have been associated with worse funding discipline.

 “State and local pension plans in the United States are virtually free from federal oversight,” said Shnitser. “This means that the state and local governments that make the pension promises to their employees are also in charge of writing the rules and putting away the money to fund these long-term obligations. As we’ve seen in recent years, for some public plans, the value of the liabilities associated with the promised pension benefits greatly exceeds the value of the assets that have been set aside to pay for such benefits.

“With state and local governments examining how to address the multi-trillion dollar shortfall in pension funding, my results suggest that institutional reforms that facilitate consistent government contributions to the pension funds – and that improve the transparency with respect to unfunded liabilities – should be considered as part of any long-term reform efforts.”

Shnitser has presented her work on US public pension plans at numerous conferences, including the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland Conference on Public Pension Underfunding, the American Law and Economics Annual Meeting, the Brandeis University Municipal Finance Conference and the Netspar International Pension Workshop. 

A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Stanford University, where she also received her master’s degree, Shnitser earned her law degree from Yale Law School, where she was a Coker Fellow and the editor-in-chief of the Yale Journal of Regulation.

Shnitser said BC Law appealed to her because of “an incredibly engaged and supportive community of students and faculty dedicated to understanding how legal institutions can be used to advance social and economic justice. I was particularly impressed that this unique commitment spans the entire Law School curriculum – from business law to criminal law to international law – and brings a great sense of passion and purpose to the Law School community.”

She praised the work of the Center for Retirement Research for its role in advancing scholarly debate and public conversation on challenges to retirement security in both the private and public sectors – especially in the wake of the 2008 recession.

“Still, even with increased awareness about such issues, we’re facing the reality that many US households – 53 percent by one measure – are at risk of not having enough to maintain their living standards in retirement, and that existing retirement savings programs and products do not reflect current demographic, economic, and employment trends.”

David Donohue JD’71, founder and President of International Human Resources Development Corporation, said many factors led him to make his gift to BC Law. “I have been fortunate to build a happy, challenging and rewarding career, and wanted to give back to an institution that helped me realize professional success. This gift also helped me recognize the important guidance I received from my father, who encouraged me to attend a Jesuit institution, having himself been taught by Jesuits for most of his formal education.”

Endowing an asistant professorship in business law represented an opportunity for Donohue to support a part of BC Law that spoke to his personal experience. A former assistant professor of petroleum and natural gas engineering at Pennsylvania State University before pursuing his law degree, he learned first-hand the many valuable contributions young faculty members can make to an institution. “This gift supports assistant professors who are helping build the school’s commitment to business law. I know how fulfilling a career in business can be, especially when it offers opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship internationally.”

Donohue adds that he wanted to set an example for similar acts of generosity: “I hope my gift inspires others to invest in BC Law’s future.”

 “I am deeply honored to be appointed the Donohue Assistant Professor and very grateful to the Donohue family for their support,” said Shnitser, a native of Moscow who emigrated from Russia to California in 1992. “In the immediate future, the appointment will give me the resources to collect and analyze new data on the legal infrastructure for US private and public pension plans, and to engage actively with social scientists, practitioners, and policymakers in the interdisciplinary challenge of improving retirement security in the United States.”