Reaction Mixed on FAS Package

A day after the Faculty of Arts and Sciences released a program for early faculty retirement, professors said that they found the plan “generous,” but expressed concern that vacated positions would not be filled as FAS continues to face a $110 million deficit.

“It provides very attractive options for people who want to retire,” said history professor Edward R. Owen, who said he will accept the package.

Owen, 74, said he had originally planned to retire this year, but will now take advantage of the two year retirement option that includes two semesters of paid sabbatical. Traditionally, he explained, one semester of paid sabbatical is offered only after seven years on campus.

Twenty years ago, Owen would not have had a choice as to whether to stay at Harvard. Yesterday’s announcement marks the first retirement program to be offered since 1994, when Harvard abolished mandatory retirement at age 70 in response to changes in federal law.

The retirement plan provides eligible faculty members with three options for financially-supported retirement within a a maximum of four years. The 127 eligible faculty members—tenured professors over the age of 65 who have spent at least 10 years at Harvard—must accept by June 30, 2010.

This year’s plan is the result of a months-long process triggered by financial troubles that began in February. The opening up of high-salary tenured positions will give FAS greater flexibility with salary costs.

Last month, FAS Dean Michael D. Smith said FAS will hire at a lower rate than current faculty attrition, reversing nearly a decade of extensive hiring that has seen the faculty grow by 20 percent.

Departments across FAS are left having to cope with smaller faculties and fewer searches for new professors.

History Department Chair Lizabeth Cohen acknowledged that a History professor is expected to take part in the program, an additional loss to a department that has already lost four tenured faculty members since the beginning of last summer.

“My concern as chair of the department, of course, is to get some assurances that these retirements will not all result in net [full time employment] losses to the department,” Cohen wrote in an e-mail.

“Our ability to offer students the range of courses they want and deserve will depend on getting authorization for new hiring in some, if not all, of the areas where faculty are retiring,” she wrote.

The retirement package will serve an aging faculty whose average age is 56. Twenty-four percent of FAS’s tenured faculty is aged 65 or older.

According to Slavic Language Department Chair Julie Buckler, five of that department’s eleven faculty members are eligible for the program.

“If Dean Smith is planning to shrink the faculty by attrition, it would not be a good thing for the Slavic Department to lose 5 of its 11 professors within a short span without any guarantee of filling those vacant positions,” she wrote in an e-mailed statement.

“The dean has made no promises,” said Astronomy Department Chair James M. Moran. Over a quarter of his department’s faculty is eligible for the plan, including Moran, 66.

But he said he does not intend to take advantage of the single-year offer and retire.

While Owen’s retirement was pushed off a year with the program, the package may incentivize earlier retirement for some professors. English Professor Lawrence Buell said he had already formulated a long-term retirement plan, and he has not yet determined what effect the program will have on those plans. “It is quite generous,” he said.

—Staff writer Noah S. Rayman can be reached at nrayman@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Elyssa A.L. Spitzer can be reached at spitzer@fas.harvard.edu.

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