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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
State Sen. Dennis Kruse, left, and State Rep. Win Moses chat with IPFW Chancellor Michael Wartell last fall. Lawmakers appear headed toward approving a law that would strike down Purdue University’s policy that requires Wartell to retire as chancellor because he is 65 years old.

Lawmakers as arbiters

The Indiana General Assembly is advancing two bills directly related to local issues that demonstrate the power of the legislature to correct bad policies but also put lawmakers in the awkward and questionable position of helping specific people win disputes.

In both cases, lawmakers are headed toward establishing sound public policy, but it is regrettable those policies could not have been corrected without new state laws.

Both Purdue and Indiana universities have archaic, discriminatory policies that require top administrators to retire after they turn 65. The policies seem arbitrary: The universities’ boards of trustees can grant exceptions based on discretionary, subjective factors, and the trustees themselves are not subject to their own 65-and-out rules.

These policies became a matter of public concern when Purdue said Michael Wartell has to retire as IPFW chancellor in June because of his age, though he can remain as a professor.

Consider, for example, these words from Purdue’s Statement of Integrity and Code of Conduct:

“We embrace human and intellectual diversity and inclusiveness. We uphold the highest standards of fairness, act as responsible citizens, respect equality and the rights of others, and treat all individuals with dignity.”

Forcing someone to step down solely because of their birthday surely violates these standards.

A Bedford state senator is seeking a state law requiring the public universities to drop the policy, largely to protect an IU dean who faces the same forced retirement. At the urging of local lawmakers, the bill was amended to take effect immediately upon passage rather than the typical date of July 1, solely to protect Wartell.

Striking the mandatory retirement policy is surely the right step, and it’s unfortunate the boards of Purdue and IU don’t take the action themselves.

The other bill requires lawmakers to reverse their own bad judgment.

Two local Chevrolet dealerships are involved in a legal dispute because one, Kelley Chevrolet, plans to move, apparently violating a state law that requires dealerships of the same model to be at least six miles apart. Such a decision should be left solely to the auto manufacturer and its dealers, and lawmakers should never have established this six-mile law to begin with.

As originally proposed, the bill would have gone so far to help one dealership as to make the law retroactive, making Kelley the automatic winner of the lawsuit that DeHaven’s Summit City Chevrolet filed. Now, the bill would take effect July 1, though if the lawsuit is not resolved by then – a very real possibility – the result would be the same, with the law favoring Kelley.

Should public universities require top administrators to step down solely because of their age? Of course not.

Should state law determine where auto dealerships can and cannot locate? No.

But lawmakers should also seriously consider whether they should put themselves in the position of settling disputes involving a very limited number of Hoosiers by passing statewide laws that affect everyone.