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Aging (dis)gracefully at Purdue

The board of regents for the University of Michigan has voted unanimously to lift its retirement age limit for top university administrators. The age limit there was 70; UM President Mary Sue Coleman turns 69 in October.

Indiana's House Bill 1200, which passed the Senate on second reading this week, includes language to do the same at Indiana's public universities, notably Indiana and Purdue, which both follow an age 65 mandatory retirement policy.

The issue is of interest in northeast Indiana because Chancellor Michael Wartell is being forced out at Indiana University Purdue University-Fort Wayne, even though Purdue, which governs IPFW, has made exceptions for seven administrators in the past 15 years. Two of the exceptions were for Purdue presidents – Steven Beering and Martin Jischke – but the trustees seem to have developed a new affection for the 65-and-out policy now that France Cordova is turning 65.

In Michigan's case, university counsel cited a state civil rights law to point out that the age 70 retirement policy was illegal – not just for universities, but for all Michigan employers. Indiana lawmakers chose to address the university policies directly, but a statewide law abolishing age discrimination might have been a better course. Current law exempts "religious, charitable, fraternal, social, educational or sectarian corporations … not organized for private profit."

Of course, IU and Purdue trustees could -- and should -- do the right thing and lift the policy on their own.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at