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Retirees' perks at U of I spark yeas and nays

Some of the 160 who benefit receive office space and free parking.

Erin Jordan

Des Moines Register

January 25, 2007

[Note: This material is copyright by the Des Moines Register, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Des Moines Register.]

Iowa City, Ia. - It's difficult to tell that Christine Grant retired in August from the University of Iowa.

The former women's athletic director and health and sports studies professor testified last week before the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics about how hefty coaches' salaries have harmed college athletics.

"The only thing that stopped when I retired was my salary," said Grant, 70. "I contribute, in a way, more now because I have more time to devote to the larger issues."

Grant is one of more than 160 retired faculty members and employees who still have offices at the U of I. Many also enjoy free parking, e-mail accounts and secretarial help.

The Iowa Board of Regents this week asked Iowa's three public universities for a report on "emeritus" employee perks. The request came after regents and U of I employees questioned why John Colloton, former director of University Hospitals, has a private office in the hospital, free parking and a secretary that the state pays $56,499 a year.

Some U of I professors have complained about such benefits, especially parking. But the school's interim president, Gary Fethke, believes the perks should be increased to help former professors stay involved with university affairs.

"I treasure these people," Fethke said. "They act as spokespeople and institutional memory for the university."

The U of I has more than 640 people with the emeritus title, which is given to those who finish their careers "under honorable circumstances," according to the U of I operations manual. Some of the retirees leave Iowa City or choose not to stay active at the school. But others continue to teach, research and advise students.

James Van Allen, the world-renowned space scientist, retired from teaching in 1985 but continued his research until shortly before his death in August. He had an office in the building that bears his name, but did not have a private secretary, said Tom Boggess, chairman of the physics and astronomy department.

"Van Allen is a good example of an emeritus professor who did contribute to the university," he said.

Nearly 400 retired employees have permits that allow them to park for free in many campus lots, said David Ricketts, the U of I's director of parking and transportation services. Faculty members, employees and students pay hundreds of dollars a year to park.

"Parking is a huge issue here, and it is a sore point of contention when full professors park miles away while emeriti faculty and clerical staff park right next to their buildings," said Jennifer Glass, chairwoman of the sociology department.

Colloton has the highest level of parking access, granted to 30 people on campus, Ricketts said. Deans, vice presidents and even the president pay $69 a month for the Lot 1 access that Colloton gets for free.

Some emeritus employees get secretarial help through academic departments, but Colloton appears to be one of the only retirees with a private secretary, U of I officials said.

Colloton, 75, worked at University Hospitals from 1958 to 2000 and was director for 23 years. He has been on the board of directors for Wellmark and its predecessor, Blue Cross of Iowa, since 1974. He is the board's lead director, according to Wellmark.

Colloton did not return telephone messages Wednesday seeking comment. Fethke, however, praised Colloton's commitment to the university.

"He's a valued, smart individual who cares about this institution deeply," Fethke said.