The University Record, May 10, 1993

Task force concludes significant number of faculty will stay after age 70

By Mary Jo Frank

Legislative changes abolishing mandatory retirement for faculty age 70 or older could create both potential problems and opportunities for the University, according to the Task Force on Retirement.

The task force, appointed by the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs and Provost Gilbert R. Whitaker Jr., presented its report and a series of recommendations to the Senate Assembly April 19.

Eliminating mandatory retirement may mitigate pressures created by an unusually large number of faculty nearing retirement age, the task force noted. The percentage of faculty age 60 or above has significantly increased in the past 10 years. If faculty members had been forced to retire at 70, this would have led to a substantial increase in the total number of retirements.

“Since the graying of the professoriate is a national trend, there could be intensifying competition to replace retiring faculty,” according to the report.

The change in law also gives the University an opportunity to address how it treats emeritus faculty. More thought should be given to making emeritus status more highly valued and to bringing emeriti more directly into the life of the University, according to the task force.

Among the most serious potential problems stemming from abolishing mandatory retirement are resource allocation and concerns about diminished teaching and research skills.

The task force noted that if a large number of U-M faculty remain well past the age of 70 and if total resources remain fixed, the following could result:

—A decline in the University’s ability to hire and promote new faculty and to adapt to new and changing fields;

— A decline in the ability to provide the compensation necessary to maintain the excellence of the entire faculty;

—A possible decline in the overall size of the faculty and in the faculty/student ratio, which is critical to the excellence of the University’s programs.

Over the past five years, U-M retirement patterns have shown a slight trend toward later retirement. There also has been a substantial increase in the number of faculty who are age 60 or older, which has increased from 357 in 1980–81 to 497 in 1992–93. Not counting seven faculty over the age of 70 in 1992–93, this amounts to an increase of 37.2 percent in the past 12 years. During this period, the overall size of the faculty was roughly constant, increasing by only about 2 percent, the task force reported.

In presenting the report to Senate Assembly, Stephen Darwall, professor and chair of the Department of Philosophy, said the task force looked at three sources of evidence to get a fix on likely retirement patterns:

—A University of Chicago study using U-M data projects a one-year retention rate of 85 percent for people who reach age 70.

—For the past three years faculty have had the option to remain after age 70; 41 percent have chosen not to stay.

—Responses to a questionnaire sent to all faculty 55 years of age and older indicated that about 58 percent can be expected to remain past the age of 70.

Whichever estimate is used, Darwall concluded, “It looks like a significant number of colleagues will stay after age 70.”

The task force recommends:

—Retirement patterns of faculty be closely monitored, their interactions with the total number of retirements be periodically analyzed, and the overall systemic effects of these two phenomena be carefully evaluated.

—Health benefits be maintained for retired faculty.

—Retired faculty be provided with research and professional support (office, secretarial and computer support, professional travel support) and be better integrated into University programs and academic communities.

—The Benefits Office expand its retirement services to include more personal counseling and annual projections of retirement income for all faculty over the age of 60.

—No change in procedures for dismissal or for review of tenured faculty.

The task force recommended that if systemic stresses warrant action:

—The University’s central administration budget resources for early retirement incentives. The funds should be allocated only to schools and campuses that make a convincing case of need and for sensible incentives, formal or informal.

—The University should consider capping University retirement contributions at a point adequate to provide for retirement, thereby removing a disincentive to retirement.

The task force endorsed the practice of giving faculty responsibilities that encourage their greatest overall contribution in teaching, research and service.

It also recommended serious consideration of decreasing faculty salaries when this is warranted based on merit.

Although the Assembly received the report with thanks, faculty reaction to recommendations was mixed.

Thanking the task force for its report, George J. Brewer, professor of human genetics and of internal medicine, said he was disappointed with its tenor, which he described as “unduly negative.” He called it an “open question” as to whether a larger percentage of older faculty would increase or reduce systemic stress on the University. Superior senior faculty may be the key to attracting junior faculty, he added.

He also said that when he joined the University 28 years ago, no one said University contributions to his retirement would be capped at a certain age, a proposal he called discriminatory.

Roy Penchansky, professor of health services management and policy, said as a faculty member accumulates years of service and delays retirement, the multiplier effect of continued contributions to a faculty member’s pension plan is substantial.

Although the task force recommendations were based on economics—not concerns about productivity— Penchansky said that if large numbers of faculty over the age of 70 do decide to continue working, it will reduce the University’s productivity.

James K. Coward, professor of medicinal chemistry and of chemistry, commended the task force for an “excellent job” and said he finds it ironic that faculty whose life work is to stimulate young minds are taking a position to limit access to the University for a new generation of scholars.