Senate Bill Would Scrap Mandatory University Retirements

A bill under consideration during this year’s legislative session could put an end to universities forcing retirement on their senior employees.

When he was 63 years old, Indiana University linguistics professor Paul Newman applied to be the Associate Dean of Faculties at IU, but was told he was ineligible because of the school’s mandatory step down policy, which forces most administrators to retire by age 65.  In 2000, Newman filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.

“I couldn’t understand it,” Newman says.  “It was amazing.  At the time when I filed the complaint the argument was ‘well, since no one had complained our policy must be okay,’ so they were surprised.”

Newman won his case in 2002, and the policy was changed – slightly — to allow high-level administrators to apply for one-year contract extensions.  The policy also gives university presidents sole discretion to accept or deny an application. But Newman says the policy has effectively meant friends of the administration may get preferential treatment.

“We know there are people who have had wavers up into their 70s.  They have done a good job, they should have the waver, but it should not be an arbitrary waver, it should be some policy. So IU’s quote “mandatory” retirement policy is mandatory unless you have friends, which is kind of a not a very pleasant kind of policy.”

Under federal law public universities can legally force policy makers to step down because of age.  But a new law passed this session by the Indiana Senate would override that, forcing IU to change its practices.

State Sen. Brent Steele (R-Bedford) says he was inspired to write the bill when he learned that a dean at IU’s law school was going to be forced to step down.  He says the Indiana General Assembly doesn’t usually micromanage universities, but in this case, he felt it was necessary.

“At age 64, I just think I have something to offer and I can’t imagine that just because I passed another year I wouldn’t,” Steele says.  “I think if a dean were in my position at my age, with my level of health and clarity, he or she might feel the same way I do”

William Resh, a professor in Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, says many public universities have voluntarily overwritten such policies as employees are working longer and life expectancies continues to rise.

“If anything, it opens them up to a wider net or they can cast a wider net because they don’t need to be hamstrung by this policy or that a potential recruit would be backing away or shying away from IU because of this arcane policy,” he says.

After years of fighting what he believes to be age discrimination, Newman may finally get to see IU’s policy change.  IU officials say they do not plan to fight the bill.

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