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Schools Consider Faculty Aging

No Retirement Age: Graying Professors?

By Jonathan N. Axelrod and Todd F. Braunstein

Few jobs promise a lifetime term: a seat on the Supreme Court, the papal office and membership on the Harvard Corporation.

Only recently, in fact, did tenured professors at Harvard University join that elite group.

Before 1993, all Harvard professors were subject to mandatory retirement, which ensured younger faculty would find chairs open for them.

But now that a federal statute has banned a mandatory retirement age, the University is juggling a new set of challenges--complying with the law, maintaining a healthy faculty turnover rate and keeping older and retired professors content, while keeping the number of appointments constant.

A delicate balancing act indeed; several deans of Harvard's schools say retirement is among the most important tasks they face this year, second only to efforts as part of the ongoing capital campaign.

"It's a huge issue," says Harvey V. Fineberg '67, dean of the School of Public Health. "Huge."

In light of widely varying age distributions among the faculties, President Neil L. Rudenstine has allowed each school to devise a separate plan.

But coming up with the right mix of economic incentives and responsibilities for retired professors is still troubling the University.

"How do you as a whole institution and community make certain on the one hand, the people who choose to stay can continue to be active and productive...and at the same time ensure a flow of younger people into the system?" Rudenstine said. "It's pretty much a zero-sum game in appointments."

Faculty Get Too Comfy?

The University has been struggling with the issue of faculty retirement since the federal Age Discrimination Act ended forced retirement in 1986.

Before that, Harvard's faculties had required different retirement ages. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences, for example, had mandated retirement at age 70.

Following a massive lobbying effort by then-president Derek C. Bok, the University was granted a seven-year delay to adjust to the end of mandatory retirement.

Eliminating mandatory retirement has not adversely affected most universities, where faculty continue to retire at approximately the same age.

One study conducted by the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, found that faculty members who teach in state schools without a mandatory retirement age were still retiring quite readily in their sixties.

But the study also found that professors at elite research institutions like Harvard tend to work past 65 or 70.

Even the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), which strongly endorsed the lifting of the mandatory retirement age, acknowledges that its absence will prove troublesome to schools like Harvard.

"Harvard is one of those places where faculty tend to stay on, because, in fact, there were conditions that made it attractive to do so--lab space, office space, lower teaching loads," says Iris Molotsky, director of public information for AAUP.

"Nationwide it's not thought to be a serious problem," says Detlev F. Vagts, Bemis professor of international law and a member of AAUP.

"In most places people are happy to retire; it's like putting down their monkey wrenches in a factory. When the age rose to 70, they still retired at 65," Vagts adds.

Other observers and that professors at Harvard and other elite schools are more attached to their work and hence more likely to stay on well past retirement.

"I would have stayed on because even now I'm guessing I carry around two-thirds of a [teaching] load," says the Kennedy School's Dillon Professor of International Affairs Emeritus Raymond Vernon, who is 82 years old. "The main thing I've really been relieved of is my paycheck."

Without mandatory retirement, faculty have no incentives to retire and every reason to stay.

"Simply put, professors at Harvard and elsewhere are now guaranteed a job for life, with no reduction in benefits and prospect for a performance review, ever," former Business School dean John H. McArthur wrote in the October HBS Bulletin. "This is an impossible situation for our school."

Older members staying on would not necessarily be a problem, but many observers agree that a reduced faculty turnover rate would be detrimental to the school's mission.

Arnold Professor of Science William H. Bossert '59, master of Lowell House, says that a faculty composed of older professors suffers from intellectual inertia. Older faculty, he says, have less incentive to break from the traditional molds that have been so successful for them.

"If we don't have some faculty refreshment, we really risk not making progress in very innovative fields of research," Bossert says. "[Older faculty] get stuck in research areas that have been extremely productive for them for years, so it's rare for someone in their seventies and eighties to begin whole new lines of thinking. We find that someone in their thirties and forties does."

Even some emeritus professors who say they would have continued teaching without mandatory retirement acknowledge the problem."

"I feel that the earlier rules are probably justified," says Professor Emeritus Jack Montgomery. "I remember from my days as a grad student that I didn't want professors ready for the glue factory."

Fineberg predicts that without a change in retirement policy; 2.5 people will fill a given faculty slot over the next century--down 1.0 from the last century.

"The short of this is that younger people have fewer opportunities," Fineberg says. "This can't be good, especially in ever-changing and dynamic fields."

Schools' Efforts

The goal for Harvard, then, is to make retirement attractive for professors--but not so attractive that too many faculty members take the University up on the offer, as happened at the University of California at Berkeley. Please see sidebar, this page.

One extreme, Rudenstine points out, would be to pay every faculty member a large sum to retire. The other extreme would be not to bother trying to induce faculty to retire. The challenge, he says, is finding something in the middle.

The degree of challenge differs significantly from faculty to faculty--and perhaps it's greatest in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS).

More than 50 of the 700 plus members of the FAS are over the age of 65, as compared to five in the Education School, four in the Divinity School and five at the Law School, according to FAS Dean Jeremy R. Knowles.

In addition, many FAS professors--particularly in the humanities--do not have the lucrative consulting opportunities available to faculty at the professional schools.

And the environment in FAS is cozy and rewarding.

"By the time you reach senior professorship status there, the teaching assignments are not onerous, you have a great deal of freedom, in effect your life has been much more integrated with a given academic field and you want to continue work with your graduate students," says Professor of Education and Social Structure Emeritus Nathan Glazer, who was a member of the FAS and Education School faculty.

In 1993, FAS took several steps to enhance both the status of emeritus professors and the incentives to retire.

On May 4 of that year, the Faculty approved a non-financial benefits package designed to satisfy retired professors' thirst for intellectual stimulation.

Retired professors are now able to offer first-year seminars, house seminars, General Education and Core courses and selected departmental courses "if there is not an active faculty member available to teach a course."

Emeritus professors are also allowed to participate in departmental and administrative services, can have office and laboratory space and may apply for grants for faculty research.

FAS also allows professors to participate at half-time status at half their salary for up to two years as a transition to retirement, according to Knowles.

"In the FAS we certainly hope that the new steady state (post-no-mandatory-retirement) will not mean a significantly older faculty on average," Knowles says in a written statement. "...We want to maintain vibrancy, new energy and new approaches, in all FAS departments."

The Medical School faculty has traditionally had more associate and assistant professors than senior faculty so the age distribution is more skewed, University administrators say.

"It's funny in the sense of not characteristic, but they do have to be thinking about [retirement] because there's no question that they...have a comparatively small faculty and therefore not a lot of flexibility," Rudenstine says.

But the problem is not especially urgent for all the schools.

The Kennedy School, for example, does not view the new regulations as especially burdensome, according to University Provost Albert Carnesale, who will end a four-year term as dean in December.

"It's not a pressing problem," Carnesale says. "The Kennedy School has a very young senior faculty--the number of people who will reach 70 in the next decade is only two or three."

And the Law School is trying to expand its faculty, so retirement issues are hardly pressing at all, according to faculty and administrators there.

Law School Dean Robert C. Clark could not be reached for comment.

Across the schools, the problem inducing faculty to retire is communicated by a change in benefits policy that the University enacted in 1995.

The University reduced its contribution to the pension fund by one percent, causing an outcry in FAS last fall. (The University also imposed a soft-cap on medical benefits.)

"Part of the danger of the end of mandatory retirement will be determined by how secure the faculty feel that their benefits and pension will see them through if they don't work into their seventies," says Philip A. Kuhn, professor of history and of East Asian languages and civilizations.

Case Study: The Business School

The Business School is the first in the University to create a comprehensive plan for faculty retirement.

It views its plan, made up of several components, as part of the larger context of faculty development.

"The program we've developed is very broad-based," says Kim B. Clark '74, who took over as Business School dean earlier this month. "I think it's very important to get people started on planning and preparing early on because a conversation that may be a big deal could be very different if you've had five or six of them."

In last month's HBS Bulletin, McArthur discusses the challenges facing the school and argues that the end of mandatory retirement has placed the school in an "impossible situation."

He adds that administrators there have reached "a robust consensus that age 70 ought to be the outside retirement-age limit for all of us here."

The first part of the school's plan is a peer review process, begun a few years ago, that will periodically evaluate all faculty member.

According to Clark, retirement conversations about the future begin when faculty members are in their forties, centering on what their plans are for the next 10 years.

As members reach 50 the issue is raised as to when the faculty sees themselves retiring.

In addition to the review, McArthur's article announced the school's new incentive plan to help encourage faculty to retire early.

Under that plan, the school will offer two year's worth of compensation to professors who announce 15 years after gaining tenure (about age 50) that they will retire between 63 and 65. If they agree to retire at 66, they get an extra 1.4 year's worth of salary and at 67, an extra .7 year's amount.

Although officials say the plan was developed in careful consultation with lawyers, observers say it may well be in violation of federal age discrimination laws.

Several lawyers contacted say they see potential problems with the proposal, particularly because of the anti-waiver section of the federal statute.

Judith Vladeck, of Vladeck, Waldman, a leading New York law-firm on discrimination law, says the sees serious problems in the Business School plan.

"The proposal is clever, but may well violate the older workers protection act, because under the law you cannot waive your right to a claim or future claim," she says. "If someone came to me with a complaint, I would challenge the plan."

She says although the proposal is very careful to say it is voluntary, she could easily see a situation in which faculty members who announce at 50 that they will retire at 65 and later change their minds would come under a lot of pressure to retire.

"I find this repugnant, because there really is inherent in any discrimination a certain attitude...I don't think you can make a generality that some people are less able to perform because of their age," she adds.

Vice President and University General Counsel Margaret H. Marshall had no comment on the legality of any specific proposal.

But many observers say that they doubt the plan will create any serious upheaval both because of the multitude of private sector consulting jobs that many have and the generally high nature of their salaries.

In addition the school has been able to induce professors to retire by improving the working conditions for emeritus faculty.

"I retired in 1989 [when the mandatory retirement law was in effect], but I would not have kept on teaching. The dean set up a nice situation...he built us a new building where we have own nook, our own secretaries and a place we can keep our books and can give a lecture," says Straus Professor of Business of History Emeritus Alfred D. Chandler Jr. "He did that very much on purpose--before we had a place known, as death row where you shared an office with three or so others after you retired."

Straus adds that the access to a typing service enables him to write at home and come in to use library and pick up and drop off his writing.

A 'New Social Compact'

Whatever approaches individual schools take the University-wide commitment to tenure and its need for new blood are bound to create tension.

"We need to examine the life-cycle of the faculty," Fineberg says. "We are in need of a new social compact between the University and the faculty and redefinition of what that means."CrimsonWhat the Deans Think

"How do you as a whole institution and community make certain on the one hand, the people who choose to stay can continue to be active and productive...and at the same time ensure a flow of younger people into the system?" Rudenstine said. "It's pretty much a zero-sum game in appointments."

Faculty Get Too Comfy?

The University has been struggling with the issue of faculty retirement since the federal Age Discrimination Act ended forced retirement in 1986.

Before that, Harvard's faculties had required different retirement ages. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences, for example, had mandated retirement at age 70.

Following a massive lobbying effort by then-president Derek C. Bok, the University was granted a seven-year delay to adjust to the end of mandatory retirement.

Eliminating mandatory retirement has not adversely affected most universities, where faculty continue to retire at approximately the same age.

One study conducted by the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, found that faculty members who teach in state schools without a mandatory retirement age were still retiring quite readily in their sixties.

But the study also found that professors at elite research institutions like Harvard tend to work past 65 or 70.

Even the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), which strongly endorsed the lifting of the mandatory retirement age, acknowledges that its absence will prove troublesome to schools like Harvard.

"Harvard is one of those places where faculty tend to stay on, because, in fact, there were conditions that made it attractive to do so--lab space, office space, lower teaching loads," says Iris Molotsky, director of public information for AAUP.

"Nationwide it's not thought to be a serious problem," says Detlev F. Vagts, Bemis professor of international law and a member of AAUP.

"In most places people are happy to retire; it's like putting down their monkey wrenches in a factory. When the age rose to 70, they still retired at 65," Vagts adds.

Other observers and that professors at Harvard and other elite schools are more attached to their work and hence more likely to stay on well past retirement.

"I would have stayed on because even now I'm guessing I carry around two-thirds of a [teaching] load," says the Kennedy School's Dillon Professor of International Affairs Emeritus Raymond Vernon, who is 82 years old. "The main thing I've really been relieved of is my paycheck."

Without mandatory retirement, faculty have no incentives to retire and every reason to stay.

"Simply put, professors at Harvard and elsewhere are now guaranteed a job for life, with no reduction in benefits and prospect for a performance review, ever," former Business School dean John H. McArthur wrote in the October HBS Bulletin. "This is an impossible situation for our school."

Older members staying on would not necessarily be a problem, but many observers agree that a reduced faculty turnover rate would be detrimental to the school's mission.

Arnold Professor of Science William H. Bossert '59, master of Lowell House, says that a faculty composed of older professors suffers from intellectual inertia. Older faculty, he says, have less incentive to break from the traditional molds that have been so successful for them.

"If we don't have some faculty refreshment, we really risk not making progress in very innovative fields of research," Bossert says. "[Older faculty] get stuck in research areas that have been extremely productive for them for years, so it's rare for someone in their seventies and eighties to begin whole new lines of thinking. We find that someone in their thirties and forties does."

Even some emeritus professors who say they would have continued teaching without mandatory retirement acknowledge the problem."

"I feel that the earlier rules are probably justified," says Professor Emeritus Jack Montgomery. "I remember from my days as a grad student that I didn't want professors ready for the glue factory."

Fineberg predicts that without a change in retirement policy; 2.5 people will fill a given faculty slot over the next century--down 1.0 from the last century.

"The short of this is that younger people have fewer opportunities," Fineberg says. "This can't be good, especially in ever-changing and dynamic fields."

Schools' Efforts

The goal for Harvard, then, is to make retirement attractive for professors--but not so attractive that too many faculty members take the University up on the offer, as happened at the University of California at Berkeley. Please see sidebar, this page.

One extreme, Rudenstine points out, would be to pay every faculty member a large sum to retire. The other extreme would be not to bother trying to induce faculty to retire. The challenge, he says, is finding something in the middle.

The degree of challenge differs significantly from faculty to faculty--and perhaps it's greatest in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS).

More than 50 of the 700 plus members of the FAS are over the age of 65, as compared to five in the Education School, four in the Divinity School and five at the Law School, according to FAS Dean Jeremy R. Knowles.

In addition, many FAS professors--particularly in the humanities--do not have the lucrative consulting opportunities available to faculty at the professional schools.

And the environment in FAS is cozy and rewarding.

"By the time you reach senior professorship status there, the teaching assignments are not onerous, you have a great deal of freedom, in effect your life has been much more integrated with a given academic field and you want to continue work with your graduate students," says Professor of Education and Social Structure Emeritus Nathan Glazer, who was a member of the FAS and Education School faculty.

In 1993, FAS took several steps to enhance both the status of emeritus professors and the incentives to retire.

On May 4 of that year, the Faculty approved a non-financial benefits package designed to satisfy retired professors' thirst for intellectual stimulation.

Retired professors are now able to offer first-year seminars, house seminars, General Education and Core courses and selected departmental courses "if there is not an active faculty member available to teach a course."

Emeritus professors are also allowed to participate in departmental and administrative services, can have office and laboratory space and may apply for grants for faculty research.

FAS also allows professors to participate at half-time status at half their salary for up to two years as a transition to retirement, according to Knowles.

"In the FAS we certainly hope that the new steady state (post-no-mandatory-retirement) will not mean a significantly older faculty on average," Knowles says in a written statement. "...We want to maintain vibrancy, new energy and new approaches, in all FAS departments."

The Medical School faculty has traditionally had more associate and assistant professors than senior faculty so the age distribution is more skewed, University administrators say.

"It's funny in the sense of not characteristic, but they do have to be thinking about [retirement] because there's no question that they...have a comparatively small faculty and therefore not a lot of flexibility," Rudenstine says.

But the problem is not especially urgent for all the schools.

The Kennedy School, for example, does not view the new regulations as especially burdensome, according to University Provost Albert Carnesale, who will end a four-year term as dean in December.

"It's not a pressing problem," Carnesale says. "The Kennedy School has a very young senior faculty--the number of people who will reach 70 in the next decade is only two or three."

And the Law School is trying to expand its faculty, so retirement issues are hardly pressing at all, according to faculty and administrators there.

Law School Dean Robert C. Clark could not be reached for comment.

Across the schools, the problem inducing faculty to retire is communicated by a change in benefits policy that the University enacted in 1995.

The University reduced its contribution to the pension fund by one percent, causing an outcry in FAS last fall. (The University also imposed a soft-cap on medical benefits.)

"Part of the danger of the end of mandatory retirement will be determined by how secure the faculty feel that their benefits and pension will see them through if they don't work into their seventies," says Philip A. Kuhn, professor of history and of East Asian languages and civilizations.

Case Study: The Business School

The Business School is the first in the University to create a comprehensive plan for faculty retirement.

It views its plan, made up of several components, as part of the larger context of faculty development.

"The program we've developed is very broad-based," says Kim B. Clark '74, who took over as Business School dean earlier this month. "I think it's very important to get people started on planning and preparing early on because a conversation that may be a big deal could be very different if you've had five or six of them."

In last month's HBS Bulletin, McArthur discusses the challenges facing the school and argues that the end of mandatory retirement has placed the school in an "impossible situation."

He adds that administrators there have reached "a robust consensus that age 70 ought to be the outside retirement-age limit for all of us here."

The first part of the school's plan is a peer review process, begun a few years ago, that will periodically evaluate all faculty member.

According to Clark, retirement conversations about the future begin when faculty members are in their forties, centering on what their plans are for the next 10 years.

As members reach 50 the issue is raised as to when the faculty sees themselves retiring.

In addition to the review, McArthur's article announced the school's new incentive plan to help encourage faculty to retire early.

Under that plan, the school will offer two year's worth of compensation to professors who announce 15 years after gaining tenure (about age 50) that they will retire between 63 and 65. If they agree to retire at 66, they get an extra 1.4 year's worth of salary and at 67, an extra .7 year's amount.

Although officials say the plan was developed in careful consultation with lawyers, observers say it may well be in violation of federal age discrimination laws.

Several lawyers contacted say they see potential problems with the proposal, particularly because of the anti-waiver section of the federal statute.

Judith Vladeck, of Vladeck, Waldman, a leading New York law-firm on discrimination law, says the sees serious problems in the Business School plan.

"The proposal is clever, but may well violate the older workers protection act, because under the law you cannot waive your right to a claim or future claim," she says. "If someone came to me with a complaint, I would challenge the plan."

She says although the proposal is very careful to say it is voluntary, she could easily see a situation in which faculty members who announce at 50 that they will retire at 65 and later change their minds would come under a lot of pressure to retire.

"I find this repugnant, because there really is inherent in any discrimination a certain attitude...I don't think you can make a generality that some people are less able to perform because of their age," she adds.

Vice President and University General Counsel Margaret H. Marshall had no comment on the legality of any specific proposal.

But many observers say that they doubt the plan will create any serious upheaval both because of the multitude of private sector consulting jobs that many have and the generally high nature of their salaries.

In addition the school has been able to induce professors to retire by improving the working conditions for emeritus faculty.

"I retired in 1989 [when the mandatory retirement law was in effect], but I would not have kept on teaching. The dean set up a nice situation...he built us a new building where we have own nook, our own secretaries and a place we can keep our books and can give a lecture," says Straus Professor of Business of History Emeritus Alfred D. Chandler Jr. "He did that very much on purpose--before we had a place known, as death row where you shared an office with three or so others after you retired."

Straus adds that the access to a typing service enables him to write at home and come in to use library and pick up and drop off his writing.

A 'New Social Compact'

Whatever approaches individual schools take the University-wide commitment to tenure and its need for new blood are bound to create tension.

"We need to examine the life-cycle of the faculty," Fineberg says. "We are in need of a new social compact between the University and the faculty and redefinition of what that means."CrimsonWhat the Deans Think

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