UI's retiree rehirings scrutinized

UI's retiree rehirings scrutinized

URBANA – The University of Illinois this week has placed a moratorium on rehiring retirees while administrators and the board of trustees begin to rework the UI's rehiring policy.

That's not to say the UI won't rehire any retirees, but all rehires must be approved by campus administrators, university administration and the board of trustees, said Tom Hardy, executive director of university relations.

"All employment of University of Illinois retirees will require specific and explicit approvals prior to those retirees going on the payroll until the new policy is finalized and enacted," Hardy said.

A rewrite of the policy has been on the table since last July when the board rescinded its previous policy.

As for the moratorium, it was issued a few days after the board of trustees approved the appointment of Anthony Halter as executive director of the Center for State Policy and Leadership at the University of Illinois at Springfield. He will receive a $135,000 salary. Halter retired from the School of Social Work at UIUC during the 2002-2003 school year and was making $60,077.

Trustee Bob Vickrey decided to abstain from that vote.

"My personal view is when a senior employee retires, the proper presumption is that ends the person's employment relations with the UI," Vickrey said.

Retirees are allowed to draw on their state pensions if they wait 60 days before going back on the payroll. However, earnings limits do come into play when someone works for a member of the State Universities Retirement System, which includes the UI.

Just how much money retirees can draw from their pensions will depend on their age as well as how much money they earn in their post-retirement years.

"It certainly is permissible to go back to work, but it has to be done within the parameters of this statute," said SURS Executive Director Dan Slack, referring to a section of the Illinois Pension Code.

For example: A person retires prior to age 60, then decides to rejoin the work force after waiting 60 days. If he earns more than his retirement annuity, SURS suspends the employer contribution portion of the annuity payments, Slack said.

By reviewing the rehiring of retirees policy, trustees are exerting their fiduciary responsibility, Hardy said.

"The UI is going to carefully scrutinize our current practices in this area. In the meantime, the university will hold down the level of retiree rehiring as much as possible," Hardy said. "While the process is under way the president (B. Joseph White) is going to work with the university trustees, campus administration, universitywide administrators to basically scrutinize the retiree rehiring practices we have and develop a policy that will guide us in the future," Hardy said.

The university rehires retirees to teach courses, conduct research, take on interim positions after another faculty or administrator have left the UI. It also hires retirees on an hourly or seasonal basis to work at Assembly Hall or Memorial Stadium or other areas around campus. The moratorium does not affect retirees hired for seasonal, temporary or hourly employment.

However, the moratorium will affect 323 retirees working at the Urbana-Champaign, Chicago and Springfield campuses. Retirees will now need to receive prior approval from the trustees to work beyond this contract year, pending development and approval of a retiree rehiring policy, Hardy said.

There is no specific timeline for adopting the new policy, but the sooner the UI has something finalized and the policy meets with board approval, the better, Hardy said.

"Our people are the university's greatest assets, and the board of trustees and university administrators recognize that," Hardy said.

One of those people, F.W. Lancaster, was not exactly pleased to hear about the moratorium.

In 1986, Lancaster, then a professor in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, started editing Library Trends, a UI journal. He continued editing the journal after he retired in 1992. He was told he would not be reappointed to the post.

"It's not about the money. It's a fairly trivial amount (about $7,000). This is not the way to treat faculty who have spent decades working for the university," he said.

The UI may have many faculty members at or near retirement age who no longer want to teach full time or conduct full-time research, but still want to continue to be involved in their fields of study, Lancaster said.

"Understandably employees are always concerned when they hear policy changes afoot as regard to employment practices," Hardy said. "The president and administration will work very carefully to come up with a system that's fair."

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