Statement from Foundation President LeCalsey

Below is the text of Foundation President Louis LeCalsey’s statement of support for UW-Green Bay in the wake of inquiries regarding university and UW System policies on the rehiring of retired employees.

LeCalsey's Statement (PDF)

Download Statement (PDF)

Louis LeCalsey, III
September 9, 2011

Statement in support of UW-Green Bay, its administration and hiring practices

If only government ran more like a business.

I have not only heard that argument many times, I have made it myself. Many, many times.

That’s why, as a citizen, taxpayer and CEO of a local manufacturing business who has given freely of my time over several decades as a community adviser and advocate for the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, I must also argue that the current “controversy” over campus hiring practices is, in a word, misguided.

In the re-hiring of Vice Chancellor Tom Maki, the university’s chancellor made a sound, cost-effective business decision that every well-run company or private agency in America would have made — and should have made — under the same circumstance.

The notion that Chancellor Tom Harden and Mr. Maki skirted the rules, or were motivated by anything other than a desire to best serve the University and its students at a critical juncture, just doesn’t hold water, and, I believe firmly, simply is not true.

Regulations governing the re-hiring of retired employees are clear. They are established by the state Legislature, applied by the Department of Employee Trust Funds (the agency that administers the state pension system) and reflected in the policies of the UW System. UW-Green Bay doesn’t make these policies, it follows them.

Critics who question the existing system should work to change it. If there are problems, fix them.

I happen to believe, however, that drastic changes — some have floated the idea of an outright ban on re-hiring retired public workers — would be folly, both in terms of economic and operations effectiveness.

The ability to tap the talent of retirees with specialized, hard-to-replace skills is essential. At a time when budget cuts, consolidation and staffing shortages require nimble management, narrowing the range of options would only drive up costs.

It is my understanding that, at UW-Green Bay, it’s not uncommon to call upon retired faculty when a late opening puts a course at risk. If the choice is between putting that single best substitute on some sort of”no-call list” because he or she also draws a pension, or cancelling the course and perhaps delaying graduation for a student or students, well … I know how I would decide.

In this day and age, as our population ages, the freedom to call upon retirees and their high-end skill sets is vital. It happens in industry every single day! It’s common practice in workplaces large and small across Wisconsin and across the country. Am I surprised that it occurs on what I consider a relatively limited basis at our hometown university? I’d be surprised—and disappointed — if it didn’t. It is a prudent practice in cases where alternatives would be more costly, and teaching or the effectiveness of services would be below the levels offered by the expedient use of a qualified retiree.

Many decades ago, I served in the United States Marine Corps. When I ended my Marine Corps service in late 1969 I pursued private-sector employment in the papermaking industry — in Marinette, Oconto Falls, Oshkosh and now Green Bay — but many of my friends stayed in service for full military careers.

These respected former colleagues earned solid pensions, earlier than I did in the private sector, and rightfully so. Some were exceptionally talented reconnaissance and intelligence officers with incredibly exacting specialties, and some were re-hired, post-retirement, as needs arose. They and I will tell you that our national defense forces could not function if this was not common practice.

I cite this not to equate the state situation with federal pension policies or the military. Not at all. I simply offer that there are countless, varied examples that drawing a retirement check should not disqualify a perfectly qualified candidate from filling a key position, especially on an emergency or short-term basis.

With Tom Maki and UW-Green Bay, Chancellor Harden made a move to retain the university’s most experienced, knowledgeable budget and finance expert at a time he was needed most.

This past spring was a time of significant change in Wisconsin state government, and there was considerable uncertainty regarding employee compensation and benefits. Amid these concerns, Tom Maki filed for retirement in early March.

I believe Chancellor Harden made the right decision when he determined that a rehiring would give UWGB its best chance to manage an unprecedented $2.5 million (11%) budget reduction without crippling the larger operation and service to students.

A search and screen for the CFO of a $100 million enterprise demands considerable time, resources and attention. From my vantage point, UW-Green Bay had none of these as it scrambled to strategically plan and implement measures to address those cuts in state funding.

I’ll close with two final observations.

First, I’m aware some have taken potshots regarding Mr. Maki’s salary (about $130,000 per year) and the estimated amount of his annual retirement (confidential by law, but in general terms about half that). I appreciate there is much discussion of the relative generosity of those payouts but that debate — with valid points on either side — is for others, and for another day.

From my private-sector perspective, however, the case in support of Chancellor Harden’s actions in rehiring his chief business officer boils down to this: It’s good business. The University does not extend full benefits to rehired annuitants, thereby saving thousands of dollars until a permanent replacement is appointed. And, as for allegations there is somehow a double “drain” on the budget, it is fact that any annuities earned by retirees have been fully funded by previous contributions and investment growth, over many decades, and represent no liability or draw on current taxpayers.

Finally, in the interest of full disclosure, I share the following. Through my own ongoing service to the University, I have known Tom Maki for many years. Public or private sector, I have worked alongside or observed chief financial and business officers my entire career, and both technically and ethically he is certainly among the finest. There is no doubt in my mind as to his personal integrity or the depth of his commitment to UWGB, this region and our state.

I don’t speak for UW-Green Bay’s Council of Trustees or its Foundation board. They are 30 civic leaders, business people and campus advocates with a marvelous range of perspective, experience and political views, and I believe this diversity benefits our shared mission.

I believe I am on solid ground, however, in saying we join university leadership in assuring our stakeholders that, in the words of Chancellor Harden, critical decisions regarding UW-Green Bay and its future “have consistently been, and are being made today, in the best interests of this University, our students and Wisconsin taxpayers.”

Louis (Lou) LeCalsey
President and CEO, Tufco Technologies, Inc.
President of the Board of Directors,
The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Foundation, Inc.
Chairman, Chancellor’s Council of Trustees