Professors in Several Parts of University Offered Retirement Package

FAS administration calls program a means to 'support' professors considering retirement; says savings are uncertain

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences and four of the University's professional schools offered retirement plans to members of their faculty earlier today, marking the realization of an idea that surfaced when it became clear last fall that the University's endowment would be hard-hit by the financial crisis.

The packages, offered by the Harvard Medical School, the Harvard School of Public Health, the Harvard Divinity School, and the Harvard Graduate School of Education, represent the first official retirement program laid out by the University since the federal mandatory retirement law—which permitted Universities to force professors to retire at the age of 70—was repealed in 1994.

One of the three retirement options put forward under the new program by FAS, the University's largest school, provides a maximum of one-year paid sabbatical to tenured faculty members 65 or older who have served at Harvard for at least 10 years. Faculty members who choose to participate must accept by June 30, 2010.

The unveiling of the package—applicable to nearly one-fourth of the tenured faculty in FAS—comes less than a month after FAS Dean Michael D. Smith said in an interview that he plans to reduce the overall size of the FAS in upcoming years through attrition. Currently, 24 percent of Harvard’s tenured faculty is aged 65 or older—the average age of tenured faculty members within FAS is 56.

In previous interviews, Smith himself has framed the faculty retirement packages, which were in progress as early as this spring, as part of budget-saving effort aimed at resurrecting the Faculty from a financial deficit that yawned as wide as $220 million in April (the figure has since been cut in half, Smith announced this fall). If any of the 127 faculty members who were offered the package chose to accept it, the plan would open up positions that would only be filled again on a case-by-case basis.

The package is presented as service to professors for whom retirement is already in sight. "The FAS faculty retirement program is designed to support faculty who are considering retirement," wrote FAS Spokesman Jeff A. Neal in an e-mail to The Crimson Wednesday.

Neal added that there was no target figure for participation in the program or any projections relating to the amount of budgetary relief that could be in store for FAS.

"[W]e do not expect that there will be any savings related to this program in the near-term and we cannot estimate at this time what savings may accrue in the out years," Neal wrote.

In the past, Smith has emphasized that over half of the Faculty's budget is written over to compensation for staffers and professors.

Harvard professors are currently the highest paid in the country, according to a recent report by the American Association of University Professors, with an average salary of $192,600 per year. In the 2009 fiscal year, FAS spent $147.8 million on all faculty salaries, according to the Dean’s Annual Report.

The FAS package is a one-time offer, which, currently, the Faculty “has no expectation of offering...again at a later date,” according to page nine of the pamphlet sent out to eligible professors today.

Last spring, in the midst of budget troubles, the University offered an early retirement package to staff members aged 55 or older who had served at Harvard for 10 years or more. That package was expressively proposed as an early retirement incentive aimed at trimming numbers and cutting costs.

In the FAS faculty package, eligible professors are presented with three options—a one, two, or four-year retirement plan. All eligible professors will be given $1,000 to support their financial planning while considering the report.

In the one-year plan, professors would maintain research and advising obligations while on paid sabbatical during the 2010-2011 academic year and retire fully by June 30, 2011.

In the two-year plan, professors would maintain part-time teaching positions for the next two academic years, including two semesters of paid sabbatical and retire fully by June 30, 2012.

In the four-year plan, professors would teach and have service obligations halftime and retire fully on June 30, 2014.

Under all three options, faculty members will be paid their full salaries during the 2010-2011 fiscal year, so the plan will not affect this fiscal year’s spring budget.

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