Aging Faculty Postpone Retiring

Once upon a time, being a tenured professor at Harvard meant being set for life. An established Faculty member could count on a long career of teaching and research at the nation's pre-eminent institution and a salary that led the pack.

Upon hitting the age of 66, most professors were secure enough to retire to their homes, many of which were located in affluent Cambridge neighborhoods, living comfortably off their Harvard pensions.

The world is now very different.

Harvard is no longer the only choice employer on the block. Well-known professors frequently have their pick of competitive offers from multiple universities, many of which have adopted a "star" system which uses high non-scale salaries to lure superb faculty. And Harvard must compete.

Add to that a steadily rising life expectancy and higher living costs, and nowadays, few professors are retiring at 66-comfortably or otherwise.

In the 1980s, anti-discrimination laws began to force corporations and businesses to do away with their mandatory retirement ages. Universities, Harvard prominent among them, lobbied hard to successfully obtain an exception to the law.

But the exemption to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act enjoyed by colleges and universities ran out at the end of 1993. No longer able to politely inform professors they were expected to retire by age 70, tenure now truly meant a job for life.

The University was afraid. Would its oldest Faculty continue to retire and relinquish the tenure seats they held across the University? If not, how would the University go about freeing up space for a new generation of scholars and to advance new areas of study?

"There was a lot of nervousness when the law changed," says Carol J.

"John Fox has talked to a number of people andbeen reasonably direct about their participation,sort of `Either get busy or get out,' type ofconversation," Thompson says.

Fox says working with Faculty on this issue isnecessarily a sensitive business.

"It may be that in some of these cases, this isthe first major career decision they've made sincethey got tenure," Fox says.

Helping current Harvard Faculty become formerHarvard faculty is a delicate job, Thompson says,and administrators must "make sure Faculty aren'tretreating into the woodwork.