In case you missed the rollicking good time at the Board of Trustees meeting yesterday--citizens getting hauled out of a public meeting at a public institution--and our Board putting its trust in the feckless, here is the Tribune's report. Oh right, right, right, it's not "our" board, it's his. Maybe the salary cut will help pay off the
University trustees cite new state pension law while extending Watson's contract
By Jodi S. Cohen, Tribune reporter
8:40 p.m. CST, March 7, 2014
It is likely one of the first examples — and certainly the most high-profile one — of a change to a university employee's benefits as a result of the state's pension overhaul that, among other changes, aimed to close loopholes in the underfunded retirement system.
Watson, hired in 2009 after retiring as chancellor at the City Colleges of
Chicago, had been drawing a
$250,000 annual salary from in addition to an
annual pension of about $140,000 from his job at City Colleges. Chicago
But under a law enacted last year as part of the state pension overhaul, university employees who are receiving a retirement annuity cannot earn more than 40 percent of their highest annual earnings prior to retirement. If they do, the employer is required to pay a penalty to the State Universities Retirement System equal to the annual retirement benefit the employee is receiving.
The change in Watson's salary reflects how lawmakers aimed to close a loophole that allowed state university and community college employees to retire and draw a pension while still earning close to the same amount in a new university job. Watson's new salary is $146,363 a year. Combined with his pension, he will draw more than $285,000 a year.
"He is still doing well, but it's much more reasonable," said state Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Skokie, who sponsored the legislation that changed the allowable compensation for university retirees who take a new state university job. "In my view, the law is doing what it is intended to do."
According to City Colleges, Watson's highest salary there was $300,000.
SURS, the retirement system, told them how much Watson could earn without
violating the new law. Chicago
"The phenomenon of collecting a generous pension while collecting a full-time salary — that was not what the system was designed for," Biss said. "I am glad the law had some impact on curtailing that behavior. He is taking a pay cut because he has to."
The law took effect in November, and
attorneys determined that Watson's contract extension was subject to the new
law. Watson's original five-year contract, which had been set to expire in
June, now goes until 2016. The contract was approved unanimously at the board
of trustees meeting Friday. Chicago State
"It is being very cautious and taking a very conservative reading of the legislation," said
board attorney Langdon Neal. Chicago State
"Dr. Watson is already participating in the (pension system). As a current state employee, there is a cap on the salary those persons can achieve."
Watson declined to answer questions from the Tribune.
Watson said he had accomplished about 75 to 80 percent of his mission when he took over four years ago and wanted to reach the remainder of his goals. He cited the university's renewed accreditation last year, a reduction in the number of audit findings by the state auditor general, an increase in academic standards and better relations with the surrounding South Side community.
"We have a mission, and the students are at the core of the mission," Watson said. "We are not finished, and there is a poem called 'See it Through,'" Watson said, referring to a work by Edgar Guest. "We are going to see this one through. I am proud and humbled, and I am appreciative for this board of trustees for giving its support to me to go forth."
This time last year, Watson was on the verge of losing his job. Trustees had been in the midst of deciding Watson's future when Gov. Pat Quinn did not renew the terms of some board members who had questioned Watson's employment.
The new board has said it supports Watson.
Tribune reporter Jason Grotto contributed.