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New Ohio State Human Resources policy limits retired professors

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Ohio State Human Resources revised a policy that limits emeritus professors to five years of teaching after retirement, a change that surprised and upset some faculty members.

Blaine Lilly, an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, said at a Faculty Council meeting Sept. 19 several professors emeriti in his department reapplied to continue teaching this year, but were told they had passed the limit of rehires.

“We have a faculty member in mechanical engineering who is responsible for bringing in $400,000 in research funding, who has been told, ‘You can no longer teach graduate students.’ That $400,000 will go away. This makes no sense,” Lilly said.

Emeritus status is a title OSU faculty can apply for when they retire. A professor emeritus receives a reduced salary while collecting retirement funds. Although they have to reapply each year, there was previously no limit to how long they could continue teaching before the policy change was made in June.

Lilly said the university has done a poor job communicating the new policy, and several faculty emeriti were cut off without warning. He added that the “unintended consequences are severe.”

“There are a couple of folks who would not have retired had they known this was going to happen,” Lilly said.

OSU spokesman Gary Lewis said Tuesday the policy was revised to prevent double-dipping, meaning the practice of receiving a pension following retirement and having a salary at the same time.

Double-dipping has been a hot topic in the Ohio legislature in recent years with the introduction of several bills meant to crack down on the issue, including House Bill 388, which would limit those collecting pensions from having a salary as well.

Lewis said, however, the university made this change on its own accord without any legislation prompting it.

“Faculty, once tenured, don’t ever have to retire. They are guaranteed to work as long as they choose and there’s nothing that guarantees they will be rehired after they retire,” Lewis said. “We really haven’t changed the policy substantially since it was adopted.”

The original policy, adopted in April 2011, stated “re-employment after retirement or separation is not an entitlement,” which Lewis said is a key assumption of the addition in June which explicitly limits the faculty from being rehired after five years.

Lilly, as well as some others, asked what the initial motivation for the change was.

“We don’t know where this came from. Did it come from the provost’s office? Did it come from the legislature?” he said.

Faculty Council Chair Leslie Alexander said she was unaware of the policy until Lilly brought it to her attention.

Alexander said in an email last week Faculty Council members “are following up with several administrators in an effort to learn more about the situation, but we are still in the information gathering stage and do not have any details yet.”

Robert Gustafson, professor of food, agricultural and biological engineering, said OSU bypassed the University Senate by formulating the policy in Human Resources.

That process is a source of further concern, Gustafson said, because it seems like the university intentionally circumvented the bylaws pertaining to shared governance. According to the university’s bylaws, faculty are vested with “the legislative authority to establish educational and academic policies of the university.”

Gustafson said he thinks the policy change may have been implemented because of fear of the Board of Regents looking in at further cracking down on double-dipping.

Lilly said he hopes the policy will be revisited and grandfathered in so those professors who retired under the assumption they would be able to continue teaching indefinitely will be able to do so.

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