Strapped colleges are paying double-dippers

TALLAHASSEE — At a time when universities are capping enrollment, cutting staffs and losing faculty members to other states, more than 475 employees at state universities have "retired" and returned to the payroll.

On top of state retirement benefits, they are collecting salaries of about $23-million.

Double-dipping among university employees is similar to what has been happening in the rest of state and local government, where 8,000 public employees and elected officials are double- and even triple-dipping.

Some university double-dippers have expertise to offer at a time when teachers are in short supply. And some universities have been careful to conduct searches for qualified replacements instead of just keeping the same old faces in the same old places.

But some universities have no idea how many of their faculty members have retired and returned to work.

Some of those rehired have been forced to pay back pension benefits after state retirement officials discovered they were back at work full time in violation of a law that limits how much work they can do in the first year.

And some faculty members complain that people given permission to retire and return to their jobs are getting favored treatment from supervisors willing to keep them around because they will never be boat rockers.

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The retirement party circuit for Robert L. Anderson was so busy when he called it quits as dean of the University of South Florida's College of Business that USF president Judy Genshaft joked, "I don't need to go to the grocery; I'll just go to a Bob Anderson party."

Colleagues presented Anderson with a rocking chair and gave a standing ovation when Genshaft announced that the boardroom in the new business graduate wing would be named after Anderson — notable because such an honor is usually given only after someone's death.

Anderson was making $187,432 when he left the payroll on Sept. 1, 2006. He collected a $343,353 lump sum payout from his state-financed retirement account.

In December 2007 he returned to the payroll, making $130,000 a year as a professor and associate dean at USF's Sarasota campus. He also collects annual retirement checks totaling $65,736.

Anderson declined to be interviewed.

Widely known in the Tampa Bay area for his expertise on business ethics, Anderson once accused the business students of today of being too interested in money.

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Many university double-dippers were in the Deferred Retirement Option Program, which requires most enrollees to terminate their employment and take 30 days off before returning to work. Most also forfeit monthly retirement checks during their first year back on the payroll, but they collect a lump sum benefit that can be several hundred thousand dollars.

The program was developed to encourage senior managers to retire and make way for younger, lower-paid employees, but it hasn't always worked out that way. More than 4,000 of the approximately 32,000 public employees who have enrolled in DROP have "retired" and returned to work, according to state retirement records.

Many of the rank-and-file see the returning employees, especially administrators, as blocking the path to promotion. Several university employees contacted the St. Petersburg Times to say that administrators have used the privilege of returning to work after retirement as a way of controlling outspoken faculty members.

Sherman Dorn, faculty union leader at USF, says people like Roy Weatherford, a faculty member and union leader known for getting under the skin of administrators, are an example of a faculty member who will never be invited to return after retirement.

The rules that apply to rehiring retirees depend on the leadership at each school. Some universities deny tenure to returning faculty members; some require them to remain as part-time employees or limit contracts to a year or three years.

The University of Florida has the most double-dippers, 127, with the highest paid coming from the medical school. They include Dr. Robert Nuss, dean of the Jacksonville regional campus who has been at the medical school 35 years; Dr. Kenneth Berns, a leading genetics explorer; and Tom Emmel, an internationally known expert on butterflies.

Retiring faculty members at UF are screened on an individual basis and frequently compete for their old jobs if they want to return, says Kyle Cavanaugh, senior vice president for administration. Budget considerations sometimes determine whether a highly paid veteran or a newcomer gets a job.

At Florida State, 67 retirees have returned to the payroll. FSU president T.K. Wetherell says the state needs to be able to bring some scientists and teachers back after they retire or face losing them to other states.

"Most of ours come back at a lower salary than they had," Wetherell added.

David W. Rasmussen, dean of FSU's College of Social Sciences, was allowed to return to the same job only after the entire faculty was polled about the decision. Rasmussen says he entered the DROP program when he turned 60, expecting to leave the job in five years. But he was named dean three months later and wanted to remain.

Two others: former Gov. Reubin Askew and former university president Sandy D'Alemberte, legendary figures in Florida government and politics who still teach classes at FSU.

D'Alemberte, 74, a pre-eminent First Amendment lawyer, was president of FSU for 10 years until he retired in 2003, was dean of the FSU Law School for five years, served in the state Legislature and was president of the American Bar Association.

He teaches classes in constitutional law and international human rights at FSU's Tallahassee and London campuses. He's paid $244,028 and collects $62,160 in retirement benefits. Upon retirement from the president's job in 2003, he collected a lump-sum payment of $232,308.

Askew, now 79, retired from state government in 1980 and started teaching in 1990. He has taught classes in Florida government administration at 10 of the state's 11 universities and has traveled more than 115,000 miles getting to the classes. He offers graduate students a unique seminar that frequently includes appearances from sitting governors, legislative leaders and other political figures.

Askew makes $161,614 a year, plus retirement benefits of $29,268 a year. As governor from 1971 to 1979, he was paid between $36,000 and $50,000.

"I retired the first time in 1980," Askew said. "I was out quite a while and came back in 1990. Of all the things I've done, teaching has been the most rewarding. It's much easier to ask the questions than answer them."

• • •

University faculty members who have contacted the Times are bothered by faculty that have been allowed to leave their jobs for a month and return to the same job at the same salary. Most often mentioned are two USF examples.

The university allowed Margaret Miller, director of the contemporary art museum, to retire from her $138,861 job in January 2006 and return to the same job a month later.

Now she makes $148,057, plus an annual pension of $53,436. She collected a $273,821 lump sum when she retired.

Richard L. Meyer, associate dean at USF's Business College, retired from his $145,314 job in October 2005. Other faculty members recall Meyer presiding over his retirement party in a rocking chair at the Business School atrium. A month later he was back on the job.

Now he makes $154,162, plus an annual pension of $57,072. He collected a $290,237 lump sum when he retired.

Times computer assisted reporting specialist Connie Humburg and researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Lucy Morgan can be reached at lmorgan@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Strapped colleges are paying double-dippers 04/05/08 [Last modified: Thursday, April 10, 2008 11:00am]

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