The University Record, January 18, 1993

SACUA task force considers faculty retirement issues

Based on one study, the change in the law governing mandatory retirement is unlikely to lead to significantly later faculty retirements on average nationwide. A better predictor of relatively later faculty retirements is the mean SAT scores of their students and whether they work at a research university.

“The better the academic life, the more likely it is that people will want to continue it as active teachers and researchers,” according to Stephen L. Darwall, chair of the Ad Hoc Task Force on Mandatory Retirement, established by the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs and Provost Gilbert R. Whitaker Jr.

The task force is considering the potential consequences of a new state law that prohibits universities from requiring tenured faculty to retire at a certain age. It is expected to report its findings to the provost and SACUA by mid-February.

Despite the overall national predictions, Darwall said, selective research institutions may experience significant changes in faculty retirement patterns, unless there are changes in practice and policy.

A study at the University of Chicago based on current retention rates projects that (without intervention) between 8 percent and 13 percent of the faculty would be 70 to 80 years old by the year 2004. Applying a similar methodology to the U-M’s faculty yields similar projections.

On the other hand, the University of Wisconsin, with two years of experience without mandatory retirement, has experienced nothing that suggests changes of this magnitude, Darwall reported.

Until the U-M “gets a fix on how things are likely to happen,” Darwall said it is important that the University proceed cautiously. Some steps—for example, ensuring a dignified, connected status for emeritus faculty to the University, are warranted on their merits, Darwall said, regardless of the magnitude of the consequences of the change in law.

The committee has discussed such issues as tenure, term contracts and regular post-tenure review. Although it is still deliberating, Darwall said, the committee has been struck by the fact that these issues are largely independent of any changes in the law concerning retirement. Institutions such as the University of Chicago that have taken some of the most dramatic steps in response to the change in retirement law (including incentives for early retirement), have avoided changes in the tenure system or the addition of a regular post-tenure review.

Changes in the mandatory retirement law may make retirement more of a process than an event, Darwall hypothesized. “The University may be well advised to be increasingly open to part-time appointments,” he added.