Magazine article University Business

Guiding Retirement: Strategies for Easing Veteran Professors into Post-Campus Careers

Magazine article University Business

Guiding Retirement: Strategies for Easing Veteran Professors into Post-Campus Careers

Article excerpt

A retired nursing professor traveled to India to compile a how-to book for the country's nurses. A one-time professor of religion took up digital photography. A former drama school dean helped a local theater company stay afloat.

Janette Brown, assistant vice provost at the University of Southern California, has seen the phenomenon often: faculty members finding exciting new directions once they retire from their tenured professorships. "Their health improves, their energy improves, they're just dead-on valuable contributors in different arenas," she says.

But data suggests that faculty members are waiting longer to retire than they once did, with sometimes problematic implications for their institutions. That trend is encouraging colleges and universities to experiment with strategies--from financial incentives to life coaching--aimed at coaxing veteran professors into starting a new chapter.

"You have someone who loves what they're doing," says Paul Yakoboski, senior economist at the TLAA Institute, the financial services company's research arm. "How do you get them to think about the other possibilities they're not considering?"

Money isn't everything

Many veteran faculty remain vibrant and productive, administrators stress. But, carefully and tactfully, they acknowledge concerns. Senior professors cost more in salaries and benefits, and research specialties honed decades ago may not match today's student interests and career needs. Technology and pedagogical techniques have evolved, leaving some tradition-minded teachers behind.

And when older faculty stay on the job indefinitely, they may prevent newer Ph.D.s--who are more likely to be female or members of racial and sexual minorities--from finding jobs. "Having people stay on who typically are white and male is not helping efforts to move toward a more diverse faculty," says Adrianna Kezar, a professor of higher education at USC.

Professors delay retirement for financial and nonfinancial reasons, say researchers and university administrators. Some surely worry they can't afford to stop working, an anxiety the Great Recession exacerbated.

But five years ago, when Carole Goldberg became vice chancellor of UCLA, she discovered that 250 of the institution's 1,800 ladder faculty were so senior that, under the state's generous pension system, these tenured professors could earn virtually the same amount in retirement as on the job. "Money wasn't the main consideration," says Goldberg, who recently left her administrative post to return to UCLA's law school.

Instead, faculty fear less tangible losses. "Faculty work is like a vocation," says Todd Benson, associate director of the Harvard-based Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education. "Being faculty isn't their job, it's their identity."

And professors worry about losing contact with institutions that have defined their professional and social lives. "The people I've interviewed about this topic often use the same terminology," says Roger Baldwin, a professor at Michigan State University's College of Education, who researches academic retirement. "And that is: When you retire, you fall off a cliff. You just kind of disappear."

Many professors simply love their work. At St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland, personnel director Deborah Anawalt recalls a professor telling her, "If I didn't teach here, I would have to go find people who want to talk to me about these books."

Addressing anxieties

Because so many factors underlie a hesitation to retire, higher ed institutions need an array of strategies to persuade senior faculty to take the plunge. "It needs to be multifaceted," says Linda Harber, vice president at George Mason University in Virginia. "I don't think you can just try one thing and think one size will fit everybody."

Institutions sometimes tackle financial anxieties through early retirement packages. …

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