EDITORIAL: Double-dippers help themselves, hurt public

When the St. Petersburg Times published an article on “double-dippers,” it reported that USF was the institution most reluctant to share information on which employees were guilty of the act.

Double-dipping is the term used when someone retires and begins collecting his or her retirement pension, and later returns to work – earning a new salary while still receiving previous retirement benefits.

The Times reported that while University of Florida and other universities handed over information willingly, USF could not provide a list because they were “unable to identify” employees who were taking advantage of this loophole. After pressuring the school via the Office of Open Government, the Times obtained the list and USF, unlike the other universities, charged the paper $194.58 in public records fees.

The Times also reported that retirees who returned to work have cost Florida $300 million dollars. Of course, not all of them are working within the university system, but it is apparent that the State University System is one of the better places to be. The Times uses Dominic J. Puglisi as an example of USF’s double-dippers. Puglisi retired while making $116,715 annually and then returned the University, receiving a raise to $139,082 along with his $47,976 pension. He also received a lump sum retirement bonus of $260,872.

In comparison, the cost to maintain the other personnel services (OPS) staff who work within Africana studies – a department up for rearrangement because of the Budget Priorities Task Force report – is $115,371.

According to the Times, two USF employees are guilty of returning to their same positions a mere month after “retiring” from the University.

Double-dipping is thriving because of a loophole in the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP). The program is supposed to encourage older working professionals to retire and make way for other qualified personnel to move up.

Universities will still need to fill the open positions created by those who retire, but they should go to qualified personnel who will provide fresh perspectives and most likely expect a smaller salary initially.

USF should not knowingly contribute to a process that hurts the school beyond just the financial burden. Avoiding the issue only hurts USF’s ethical reputation, particularly among younger academics and professors seeking to move up in their respective fields.

When USF settles on paying off those who are retired in favor of up-and-coming professors, the school will find that younger academics will work here only as a last resort.

When consultant Stephen Portch was hired by USF to examine which areas USF needed to improve as it continues its push to join the American Association of Universities, he listed faculty development as a major flaw. Double-dipping is clearly a practice that works against it.