Easing the bottleneck of aging faculty through retirement
- Since mandatory retirement of college and university professors was ended in 1994, U.S. faculty have put off leaving their classrooms to later and later in life. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that as many as 7% to 9% of professors at private research universities are now over 70 and at some universities, 1 in 3 academics is now 60 or older. This leaves fewer opportunities for young Ph.Ds, who are more likely to be current in their fields and could bring a sense of currency or freshness to the classroom.
- Many people in their 60s, however, are not ready to retire. And professors, in particular, tend to enjoy the work, teaching and research, having strong ties to students and institutions they are reluctant to relinquish. If they served as adjuncts, they also may not have the savings to retire comfortably. In other cases, colleges may be reluctant to let go of aging professors, fearing their positions will be eliminated due to tight budgets.
- The conundrum leaves both faculty and administrators unsure of ways to approach retirement. Nonetheless as Baby Boomer professors continue to enter their golden years, college officials must consider strategies to make faculty members’ move to retirement less daunting, some sort of phase-out likely makes the most sense for tenured faculty members, which not only staves the shock of leaving academe cold turkey, but also gives universities the benefits of the professors’ accumulated knowledge and eases planning for new hires.
Schools can create new titles for retired faculty, such as “research professor,” for those who no longer teach but remain active in research, and provide lab or office space for retired faculty who wish to remain on campus in some capacity. A “terminal sabbatical,” in which a professor takes leave, either to do something traditional such as write a book, or untraditional such as help revise curriculum, and never returns to campus could also prove a good option.
Administrators could follow UCLA’s lead by creating a program in which faculty members can negotiate perks for the last years of their employment, such as a reduced teaching loads to pursue a research project. Creating a post-retirement plan or hiring a retirement liaison are other good ways to help professors navigate the bridge to life after teaching.
Because so many factors are behind a reluctance to let go, college administrators need an array of strategies to persuade senior faculty to take the plunge. “It needs to be multifaceted,” said Linda Harber, vice president at George Mason University in Virginia, in a recent University Business article. “I don’t think you can just try one thing and think one size will fit everybody.”
Overall, the most successful strategies seem to be those in which both colleges and faculty view retirement as an evolution of the professor’s relationship with the school and profession they love, rather than an end to it. Although retirement is still likely to be an emotional time, schools looking to make room for younger faculty — while staying committed to the institutional knowledge and loyalty of faculty who’ve been around for decades — can find balance.