Retirement Bill Sparks Controversy

NEWS ANALYSIS

The Senate Committee on Human Resources will begin considering a piece of legislation today that faculty and administrators at universities across the country are studying with more than mere academic interest. The bill would raise from 65 to 70 years the age at which employers may force their workers, including tenured college faculty, to retire.

The bill, a similar version of which received overwhelming approval from the House of Representatives last Friday, would have a detrimental effect on American higher education. Harvard administrators said yesterday.

It could further darken the already bleak academic job market for new Ph. D.s, make it more difficult for universities to renew their faculties with younger academics, especially minorities and women, and add a new burden to university finances, they said.

If the bill raises the retirement age for tenured college faculty, as few as 600 college academic appointments per year may be available nationwide during the early 1980s, according to a Harvard study forwarded to the Senate committee. Bruce Collier, assistant to the dean of the Faculty for financial affairs, conducted the study.

Collier said yesterday the study shows that if Congress implements the retirement law within the next several years, the "first line impact"--the period during which practically no faculty members currently nearing 65 years of age will retire--will occur when current projections show the academic job crunch will be worst.

Michael F. Brewer, director of government relations, said about the bill yesterday that the "University's major concern is with being able to renew the faculty and, at the same time, preserve tenure."

Passage of the bill "would force the University to take a look at tenure," Brewer said.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences currently sets 66 years as the retirement age for tenured faculty. At that age, Faculty members may either opt to teach two more years with a full workload or four more years with a half workload, but without further Faculty contributions to the professor's pension fund, and without further pay raises.

Other University faculties maintain higher and lower retirement ages for their professors. Business School faculty retire at 65 years of age, and the Law School mandates retirement at age 70.

Brewer said Harvard has not developed an official position on the retirement bill but added that he has "made inquiries" with members of the Senate committee staff about proposed amendments to the bill. The amendments would exempt tenured college faculty from the bill's provisions.

"We've expressed our concern, "Brewer said.

Two different amendments that the committee will consider at today's session could effectively exempt tenured faculty from the new law. An amendment offered by Sen. John H. Chafee R-R.I.) would specifically exempt tenured faculty from the bill's provisions.

An amendment by Sen. Clairborne Pell (D-R.I.) would empower the Labor Department to exempt any occupations from the law that it sees fit.

Many Senate observers say the basic provisions of the bill now before the committee have an excellent chance of approval. The Carter administration recently endorsed the bill, and the House overwhelmingly approved its version of the bill.

With a variety of professional associations of college faculty opposing any exemption from the law for professors, however, the prognosis for the exemption amendments remains uncertain.

A member of the majority staff of the Senate Human Resources Committee said yesterday that although he has "conducted no poll on it," he believes both amendments have "a good chance" of passage at today's session.

For faculty members at many schools, the retirement age issue has proved an explosive one, often dividing junior faculty and older, tenured professors.

Jordan Kurland, a spokesman for the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), said yesterday his group has declined to take an official position on the legislation and is still examining the question."

Kurland said that the majority of professors who have written to AAUP support the higher retirement ceiling. He added, however, that he is still unsure of AAUP membership sentiment on the bill because "those who directly benefit from the legislation speak out louder and harder than those who are hurt indirectly.