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CSU president takes salary cut to abide by state pension rules

Updated: April 9, 2014 6:14AM



Chicago State University’s president will work the next six months for free in order for the South Side school to comply with new state pension rules, its board of trustees announced Friday in approving a three-year contract for Wayne Watson.

The contract, backdated to July 1, 2013 and running through June 30, 2016, involves a salary cut — to $146,363 a year from his current $250,008 a year — to keep Watson below new salary caps governing public higher education pensioners.

“The board is very grateful that Dr. Watson is willing to sacrifice part of his own salary in order to continue leading CSU,” saiud Anthony Young, chairman of the seven-member board of the four-year public university.

Under last year’s Return to Work bill meant to bring reforms to the State Universities Retirement System, people already drawing pensions may now earn no more than 40 percent of their highest pre-retirement salary if they go to work at another SURS institution. Stiff penalties apply to employers that pay them more than the cap.

“Some other universities with faculty and staff in similar circumstances are likely to see those professionals retire, leaving a void to fill for those institutions. Dr. Watson is putting CSU’s interests ahead of his own financial interests and the board appreciates his commitment and dedication,” Young said.

Watson retired from his job as chancellor of City Colleges of Chicago in 2009 to accept a five-year contract to steer CSU through June 30, 2014. He currently draws an annual pension of $140,000 from City Colleges.

But 3 1/2 years in, controversy erupted when Watson was accused of an unspecified breach of school policy, with the board considering his termination. It voted in September to retain him, however. It amended that contract Friday, reflecting the salary change to comply with the new law meant to address pension double-dipping.

Watson’s compensation in eight months maxed out at the annual cap, requiring that he retire or the school pay a state penalty the school said would have amounted to $20,000 monthly.

“I could have left to go work at a private university at full salary and kept my pension. I’ve chosen to work at zero salary to make this work because it’s not about the money. It’s about the mission. I have to see it through,” Watson said.

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