Retirement Package Draws Faculty Interest

Nearly a quarter of the 176 eligible faculty members—a subset which includes some of the University’s oldest and most renowned professors—accepted a one-time retirement plan that will facilitate their departure within the next five years, the University announced yesterday.

The retirement programs, open to faculty members over the age of 65 with at least 10 years of experience at Harvard, will grant the University flexibility in its long-term planning in the aftermath of a trying fiscal period, according to Judith D. Singer, senior vice provost for faculty development and diversity.

Although the decisions are private, Reverend Peter J. Gomes, Professor of Middle East History E. Roger Owen, Neuroscience Professor John E. Dowling ‘57, and Classics Department Chair John M. Duffy have indicated to The Crimson that they planned to or have accepted the package.

Faculty members in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Medical School, the Harvard School of Public Health, the Harvard Divinity School, and the Harvard Graduate School of Education were offered the package as of last December.

In FAS—the University’s largest school with 721 faculty members—32 professors opted into the program. The majority of participants chose the two longer-term options.

In the FAS package, eligible professors are presented with three options—a one, two, or four-year retirement plan that include part-time teaching duties and leave open the possibility of going on sabbatical.

The University has not offered a formal retirement plan since the 1994 repeal of a federal mandatory retirement law, which permitted Universities to force professors to retire at the age of 70.

Although the programs facilitate the retirement process, administrators said, they are not intended to incentivize faculty departures.

In an average year, around 10 faculty members enter the planning process for retirement, according to Singer. With the programs, 46 professors—averaging age 70—will retire over the course of the next five years, in addition to those professors who decide to retire in the meantime.

Singer said that there was no observable “pattern” across fields or departments.

Administrators emphasize that the plan was not a cost-cutting move but rather a measure of flexibility in the wake of the financial crisis.

Professors have often asked the administration for some form of retirement options, according to Singer.

Last year’s plan, with its July deadline, was a one-time pilot program. Professors can no longer participate in the particular programs offered last year.

But Singer said that FAS, the Divinity School, and the School of Public Health are in talks to create a permanent retirement-planning offering.

“The ability to plan a personalized and phased retirement has proven attractive to many of our faculty,” FAS Dean Michael D. Smith wrote in a letter to the Faculty yesterday, noting that FAS will announce a permanent plan in December.

“I thought it would be a marvelous opportunity,” said Dowling, who signed up for a four-year package 49 years after he first began teaching at Harvard. “It would be easing into retirement very nicely.”

Dowling, 75, said that the program matched with his personal retirement plans. “It came along at just the right time,” he said.

—Nathalie R. Miraval contributed to the reporting of this story.

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

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

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