Profs May Be Offered Buyout

In February, Harvard announced an early retirement incentive package for staff members. Now, the faculty may be next.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ Office for Faculty Affairs is collaborating with the Provost’s Office to explore implementing a retirement incentive package for faculty members, FAS Dean Michael D. Smith said in an interview yesterday.

Although the details still need to be ironed out, the program is well into the planning stages, and some professors surmise that such a program may be a prelude to a longer-term shrinking of the Faculty.

“The Faculty grew a lot in the last five years, so I presume they’ll let it shrink a bit,” said English professor Louis Menand. “Faculty salaries can be a quite big chunk of the budget.”

Now that the deadline for FAS staffers to accept their retirement incentive packages has passed, University spokesman Kevin Galvin wrote in an e-mailed statement that “University officials are beginning to take up the question of a faculty program in earnest.”

Galvin added that it is still too early to tell whether a potential faculty retirement incentive program would be University-wide or restricted to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

“My understanding is that there’s going to be very few searches in the next few years and that we don’t have a model in FAS of automatic replacing in the same field when somebody vacates,” said history professor Andrew D. Gordon, who is on the Faculty Council, which discussed the possibility of a faculty retirement incentive package at their Wednesday meeting.

Some professors who are considering retirement are concerned that in the current economic climate, there is no guarantee that a ladder faculty member would replace them.

Gisela Striker—the philosophy department’s only specialist in ancient philosophy—recently submitted her plan to retire at the end of next year and said she has already “given up” on seeking a replacement.

The department already had a short list of professors they were considering to replace her, she said—but Smith froze the search.

She said that not replacing professor vacancies has the potential to do serious harm to FAS by restricting opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students to work closely with faculty.

“I’m not convinced that the University would really stand to save a lot of money without really doing harm to what they call their main aim and commitment—namely continuing to promote education and research,” Striker said.

Over half of the FAS budget, Smith emphasized at the town hall meeting and in yesterday’s interview, is people costs—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.

Smith said at the FAS town hall meeting earlier this month that he is not considering salary reductions for professors or upper-level administrators as a possibility because with the current salary freeze, “we’ve all taken a real pay cut.”

After the federal mandatory retirement law—which permitted Universities to force professors to retire at the age of 70—was repealed in 1994, the Harvard Faculty has slowly aged.

No matter how appealing the package may be, getting professors to retire will be more difficult than it sounds.

Economics professor Lawrence F. Katz said yesterday that although there is currently an informal rule for professors to voluntarily retire at the age of 70, that may change in the current economic climate in which many have lost a substantial portion of their retirement savings.

He added that it might be a detriment for FAS if older professors stay on for too long, preventing young junior professors from being hired.

Several professors also said that their colleagues’ love for their work might make it less likely for them to opt for early retirement.

“I don’t see any of them being that interested in [a retirement incentive package],” classics professor Richard F. Thomas said of his colleagues in the department. “They all enjoy teaching and research. That’s basically what the job is about, so if you can get paid for that, why retire?”

—Staff writer Bonnie J. Kavoussi can be reached at kavoussi@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Alexandra Perloff-Giles can be reached at aperloff@fas.harvard.edu.