Monday, August 5, 2013

Feral or Febrile

A nice confluence of posts this past week: Phil Schrodt declared his resignation with something like a declaration of independence, and Inside Higher Ed had a piece on profs not retiring.  First, I do appreciate a good Hitchhiker's Guide reference so kudos to Phil.  Second, I am shocked, shocked to find that academics respond to incentives.  In this case, for many folks, why retire when the income can still come in and you can hang out with smart, interested, dynamic students?  The original hypothesis that ending mandatory retirement would not change retirement patterns just seems so un-social scientific--where is the logic?  How was it tested?

I am not a big fan of mandatory retirement, but I am also keenly aware that having heaps of slots taken up by those who got their PhD's a half a century [oops, had decade here!] ago may not be that good of a thing.  There was a burst of talk in the late 90's, if I remember correctly, about post-tenure review.  This would involve some sort of effort to review professors on a regular basis to make sure they were still producing research and still teaching well.  What came of that?  Well, I am not sure, but what I saw in a few places were the establishment of in-house, staffed by department members, processes.  Just as police are lousy at policing themselves, having profs monitor other profs for being unproductive after tenure is a bit problematic.  They protect each other. We cannot entirely trust administrators to run such processes because they can game such efforts to cut costs. And, of course, there is legit concern that retirements mean tenure track slots disappear and are replace with adjuncts.

So, what is the solution?  I do worry about age discrimination, but I do wonder if we could put a clock on tenure.  That is--it expires after x number of years or at a certain age, and then one is not fired, but one has to earn renewed contracts.  The idea of going through another tenure-esque process in one's golden years is, of course, not terribly attractive.  Of course, this would not push out those who are still productive but also still occupying a slot that might be better occupied by someone educated after Watergate.  So, not a panacea, and with heaps of problems baked in.

Of course, I have strong preferences since, with one exception, the folks who caused the most trouble for me (either by standing against me or refusing to stand for standards) were those on the other side of 65/70.  So, take this post with a big grain of salt, of course.  But do contemplate the health of places where the future of the department is seen to be the folks over70.

I have vowed that I will get out at 70, if not before.  Which is still 5 years after ordinary retirement but was apparently the old mandatory retirement age.  Of course, if my funds continue to get hit hard by various shocks, I may find myself tempted to stick around.  If I do, please dig up this post and print it out and then hit me with it.


Frances Woolley said...

Tenure without an expiry date is untenable - just like people are really lousy at knowing when they're not fit to drive, they're pretty poor judges of when they're not contributing to the institution. I've always figured the elimination of a standard retirement age would mean the end of tenure.

B.t.w., do you mean century rather than decade in this sentence: "I am also keenly aware that having heaps of slots taken up by those who got their PhD's a half a decade ago..." I have no objections to slots being taken up by people who get their PhDs half a decade ago.

Steve Saideman said...

Thanks, I fixed it. Meant half a century ago.... or else everyone would be put to pasture ;)