In an unusual move, Dale Chapman, the president of Lewis and Clark Community College, has been reappointed after having retired in May to gain access to his pension funds, which he said he needed to extricate himself from financial difficulties.
Chapman used part of the pension to make delinquent mortgage payments and resolve tax issues, and now the college's Board of Trustees -- which had expressed an interest in rehiring him -- has welcomed him back into the president’s office and onto the payroll as of Aug. 16. He will be earning the same salary as when he left.
Chapman's original intention had been to borrow against his pension, but Illinois law prohibits it. In May, he opted to withdraw his pension in a single lump sum instead of receiving annuity payments.
“I had to access my retirement funds to pay my bill and make things right, and fortunately I had the resources to do that,” Chapman said.
According to the State Universities Retirement System of Illinois, retirees may return to work at least 60 days after they retire. “It’s very straightforward,” Chapman said. “You’re no longer in the [SURS] system whatsoever, because you’ve taken all your money out.... It’s not double dipping -- that doesn’t apply to me at all because I’m treated as a new employee.”
“Double dipping” -- the process of retiring and becoming reemployed, thus collecting both an annuity and a salary -- is illegal in some states, but not uncommon. Earlier this year, the Illinois legislature passed a major pension reform bill that includes regulations outlawing the practice for new state employees beginning in 2011. A similar situation led to the resignation of the Louisiana commissioner of higher education in July.
Even though Chapman is not receiving an annuity and therefore not truly receiving two simultaneous salaries, his situation is still slightly ambiguous.
"He's not getting a monthly annuity -- he cashed out his retirement," said Ellen Andres, CFO and ethics officer for the Illinois Community College Board. "I'm assuming that the amount that you get monthly versus the amount of your payout would be the same, because it's all based on the amount of money you have in your account.... This hasn't been asked before. [In the lump sum] you get all the state's money at once, so in a way I guess it could be considered double dipping." She added that, nonetheless, double dipping is not illegal in Illinois, and asking college presidents to come back to work is not uncommon, especially if they are returning in an interim capacity.
The board's decision to let Chapman return to the presidency full time has raised some eyebrows among faculty.
"I don't know of any other circumstance where a college president retires from his or her job and goes back to the same job," said Tom Pulver, a member of the Illinois Community College Board and a mathematics professor at Waubonsee Community College. He added, however, that Chapman has been a very successful president.
“The Board of Trustees at Lewis and Clark seems to be making very questionable decisions,” said Kathy Westman, president of the Illinois Community College Faculty Association. “It’s not illegal what’s going on there at all, but problematic in regards to a very strained time in our state, when we’re obliged to the taxpayer…. Some colleges use past presidents for advisement and they get some sort of stipend, [but] I’ve never heard of this.”
When Chapman resigned, Lewis and Clark did not begin a search for a new president, instead waiting see if his case would resolve itself before they did anything “more formal,” Chapman said. He added that legally there was "no connection" between his retirement and his return, and that he knew he had to meet the appropriate standards before the Board could rehire him.
He said he was very transparent with the board of trustees about his situation, and when he was again financially stable, he submitted a letter to the board asking to be reconsidered for the president’s position.
Robert Watson, chair of the Lewis and Clark Board of Trustees, said that at the time of Chapman's retirement, he hoped the president "would consider being rehired at some later date," but that there was no agreement. "The fact that he chose to take the lump sum and pay his bills rather than declaring bankruptcy -- I think that was the right decision," Watson said. In a statement, Watson praised Chapman's "track record of success" and his work in leading the college through significant growth. Chapman has served as president since 1992. Gary Ayres, vice president for administration, was appointed as acting president and will now return to his previous position.
“I know 100 people myself who are retiring and coming back after the 60-day waiting period,” Chapman said, adding that in his own case it seems like a bigger deal because he’s a public figure. “Illinois is going through a very difficult financial time, so there are people who are accessing their retirement funds. This is not an unusual concept whatsoever, at any level.”
“[Chapman] is an excellent leader, and I’ve seen him over the years make tremendous progress at Lewis and Clark,” said Jerry Weber, president of the Illinois Council of Community College Presidents. He declined to comment further on the situation.