Response to Retirement Law Unclear

News Analysis

In the fall of 1986, after a massive lobbying effort by then-President Derek C. Bok, the University was granted a seven-year delay to adjust to the end of forced retirement practices.

But it is now 1993, and despite a recently announced series of nonfinancial retirement incentives, some professors interviewed this week said they are still waiting for the answers to the retirement concerns raised by the Age Discrimination Act.

Before the 1986 law was passed, Harvard forced professors to retire at age 70. Now, though, the legislation prevents such practices and some professors interviewed this week say the consequences could be serious if incentives do not successfully convince faculty to accept emeritus status.

"I personally am all for prompt retirement for everyone, including myself," said Franklin L. Ford '48, McLean professor of Ancient and Modern History emeritus, who is retired.

Master of Master of Lowell House and Arnold Professor of Science William H. Bossert '59 said aging faculty members who refuse to accept emeriti status could prevent turnover in the Faculty ranks. The result, he said, could be "a whole discipline in the control of increasingly...out of date understandings."


"I'm terribly afraid of it," he said.

The University began trying to formulate a response to the uncapping of the retirement age in 1986, with discussions between Bok, deans of various schools and other senior officials.

In 1988, then-Dean of the Faculty A. Michael Spence created a faculty-administrator committee, chaired from 1991 on by Provost Jerry R. Green, to look into potential policy changes.

Today that committee's proposals are held up by a morass of regulations on age discrimination, so such ideas as payments for retiring professors and five-year "senior professorships" to ease faculty members into emeritus status are waiting on the welter of legal complications.

In the interim, the administration this month suggested nonfinancial benefits in both the Faculty Council and a full Faculty meeting, intended to make the retirement transition more attractive.

They include laboratory and office space for emeriti, provision for retired professors to teach selected classes, clerical resources for emeriti, research grant funding for retired professors and amenities like departmental mailings and invitations to Faculty meetings for emeriti.

The suggestions were applauded by a number of professors. "I think the intellectual and social environment is the most important incentive one can offer," said Professor of the History of Science Barbara G. Rosenkrantz '44, who said such guarantees could affect her retirement decisions.

Loker Professor of English and Master of Adams House Robert J. Kiely '60 said the teaching emeriti will be especially welcomed in the house seminar programs.

But Bossert said the word "nonfinancial" is misleading, since guaranteeing office and lab space to retiring professors is not free of cost for some departments.

"Space in some departments is at a premium," said Bossert. He fears that public statements guaranteeing space for older faculty could "inhibit our ability in the capital campaign to raise money for new space."

And many professors said however beneficial the "nonfinancial" suggestions are, they are not enough. Decisions will be made based on the financial implications dealt with in the Green committee report, not just amenities, they said.

"I hope more will be said about it," said Professor of Physics and Physics department Chair Howard Georgi '68, who said he was surprised at difference between these suggestions and the original Green committee report.

"I certainly think that as part of what's going to be a bigger package [nonfinancial benefits] might" have an effect, said Kiely, but "I think another part of the picture has to be what the financial benefits will be."

Bossert said that such innovations as a pension plan tied to the cost of living index and a long-term health care plan that would cover nursing-home care would definitely ease professors' fears about retiring.

"We're going to have to consider such things if we're going to get people to retire," he said. "It's going to cost some money.... It would cost a lot less than our staying on longer than we should.