News at Smith

Fearless Idea 3: Save Government Pensions

Mar 03, 2017
World Class Faculty & Research

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SMITH BRAIN TRUST — Millions of government employees are counting on the funds from their pension plans to get them through their retirement years. But a potential economic crisis looms.  Many state and local pension systems teeter on the brink of financial disaster. What is more, there is no federal oversight of the asset managers controlling the $3 trillion in these funds.

New research from Leigh Anenson at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business examines how the fiduciary relationship between trustees and beneficiaries could safeguard against the risk that Americans working in the public sector may lose their retirement savings.

Public retirement systems for state and local employees in the U.S. are usually defined benefit plans administered by a government-designated board of trustees. Government employees – the beneficiaries of the pensions – must rely on the honesty, integrity, and judgment of the boards in managing their assets.  Recent scandals involving fraud, bribery, and corruption of public pension officials place these retirement assets in jeopardy.

Anenson’s approach is to hold pension board members to high standards of individual accountability while still giving them enough flexibility to manage the funds effectively. She calls for stronger laws to redefine the obligations these boards have to the government workers relying on them. Anenson draws a connection from the centuries-old system of equity, where standards instead of rigid rules are used to encourage ethical behavior.  Anenson argues that viewing fiduciary law from its historic home in equity is the best way to remedy fraud and opportunism and to otherwise promote good public pension governance.

Read more: “Public Pensions and Fiduciary Law: A View from Equity” is forthcoming as the lead article in the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform.

Leigh Anenson is an associate professor of business law in the Logistics, Business and Public Policy department at the Smith School. She is a co-founder and associate director of the Center for the Study of Business Ethics, Regulation, and Crime (C-BERC) and an affiliate faculty of the University of Maryland’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

Research interests: Equity jurisprudence, rethinking the role of ancient equitable principles in contemporary court practice; pension law and policy in the public and private sectors; and attorney liability, analyzing liability issues for attorneys in the business of litigation.

Selected accomplishments: Numerous teaching and research awards, including the two most prestigious international awards given by the Academy of Legal Studies in Business, the Ralph C. Hoeber Memorial Award in 2005, 2006 and 2007; and the Holmes-Cardozo Awards in 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2009. 

About this series: The Smith School faculty is celebrating Women’s History Month 2017 in partnership with ADVANCE, an initiative to transform the University of Maryland by investing in a culture of inclusive excellence. Daily faculty spotlights support activities from the school’s Office of Diversity Initiatives, culminating with the sixth annual Women Leading Women forum on March 30, 2017.

Other fearless ideas from: Rajshree Agarwal  |  Ritu Agarwal  |  Leigh Anenson  |  Kathryn M. Bartol  |  Christine Beckman  |  Margrét Bjarnadóttir  |  M. Cecilia Bustamante  |  Rellie Derfler-Rozin  |  Waverly Ding  |  Wedad J. Elmaghraby  |  Rosellina Ferraro  |  Rebecca Hann  |  Amna Kirmani  |  Hanna Lee  |  Hui Liao  |  Wendy W. Moe  |  Courtney Paulson  |  Louiqa Raschid  |  Rebecca Ratner  |  Rachelle Sampson  |  Debra L. Shapiro  |  Cynthia Kay Stevens  |  M. Susan Taylor  |  Vijaya Venkataramani  |  Janet Wagner  |  Yajin Wang  |  Yajun Wang  |  Liu Yang  |  Jie Zhang  |  Lingling Zhang  |  PhD Candidates

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, specialty master's, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.