As Professors Delay Retirement, Office Space in FAS Remains Tight

At a University already looking to expand its rank and size, the continued presence of senior professors has contributed to ongoing concerns over space within the FAS.

This problem has been particularly pronounced in the natural sciences.

With lab space already limited, many suggest that the enduring presence of older professors, who maintain their lab space for years on end, even after age 70, contributes to the problem.

Statistics show that professors in the sciences, at Harvard and nationwide, tend to hold off retirement longer than those in the humanities and social sciences.

According to Tompkins, most humanities professors, even without the mandatory retirement age, retire at or around age 70. Faculty members in the natural sciences stay on until or past age 70 as active members, and social sciences professors fall in the middle, Tompkins says.


“Especially for science, the biggest impact is the issue of space,” Biewener says. “The situation is particularly difficult when senior faculty want to remain active and maintain lab space. We are starting to encourage older faculty to cut back on research.”

Biewener agrees that professors drawn to the “excitement of the lab environment” have a hard time letting go.

“[It’s] a question of ego and self-worth when you can no longer continue with the kind of daily activities the lab experience demands,” he says.

Huth, too, points to the sense of “abdication” felt by professors who surrender lab space.

But Huth argues that the lack of a retirement age cannot be pointed to as the only cause of the space crunch.

“Lab space is definitely an issue,” Huth says. “I wouldn’t say the sole cause is retirement, though. The priority of expanding the faculty is a bigger factor—retirement is a small component.”

“There should be no bias against age, but you must be prepared to let younger professors on,” says Dean of the Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences Venkatesh Narayanamurti, adding that the FAS is currently working on ways to reevaluate the use of space by individual professors.

“Space is not tenured,” Narayanamurti says. “We need to have broad policies, we need to use judgment and have good sense.”

—Staff writer Rebecca D. O’Brien can be reached at

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