Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Aging Profs: When Will They Retire?

Image result for old muppets in balconyThis story got a lot of academic attention: that profs in Ontario (and elsewhere in North America) are not retiring.  With the end of mandatory retirement, professors seem to like their jobs and keep on keeping on.  One of my former colleagues at McGill is now significantly over 90 and still thinks he is the future of the department (my sniping since he is still involved in department politics and not in a productive way).  And, yes, I remember being told when I was in grad school, that there would be tons of jobs as folks retired... which never seems to happen.  So, I have mixed feelings and tweeted thusly:

Let me explain.  First, the retirement age of 65 does not makes sense anymore.  It was developed when half the folks would be dead at 65. Ok, maybe not quite, but the basic idea is that if you make it to the average lifespan, then you can stop working and live a few more years.  Now, folks who make it to 65 are very likely to make it another 10-20 years.  That is both a long time to live off of one's savings and to be unemployed.  So, if we start to change retirement ages to keep up with folks living longer and living better longer, then 65 is probably too soon.

On the other hand, more than a few folks who are over 70 and more so those over 75 often seem to be behind the times--not up on the literature, not up on the methods and trends, and so they make lousy advisers, not that great teachers, and so on.  And they are filling up lines that might be filled by younger, more energetic, more innovative folks who might also bear more of the burden of supervision, of service and all that.

On the third hand, one of the trends that has been going on since I graduated long ago is that retirements are often not filled.  That when the department loses a person, they lose that line and, instead, you might get a temporary person.  So, you get someone who teaches but can't provide much service to the department and is unlikely to produce much research (not because they are not up to it but because their load is so much heavier).  So, kicking out a somewhat productive older person might be a bad idea if the replacement is someone who produces less because they are teaching at multiple places to make up for their poor pay.

On the fourth hand, this stuff is gendered but not in the ways some folks expected (but Frances Woolley did expect because she is very smart).   Older profs are mostly male since the profession was very male for quite some time, so they are blocking spaces for younger women to move in and up.

And, yes, now that I am on the other half of my career, closer to retiring than to when I started, I am a bit more sympathetic to the old folks that people want to kick to the curb.  My goal has been 70, which I think is a fair compromise between getting out when I am still pretty young and hanging on forever.  Then I realized if I continue my sabbaticals at this rate, I would be eligible when I am 71.  Hmmmmm.   Of course, it all really depends on how the various retirement funds/plans are when I get older.  Moving to Carleton late in my career means working past 65 to get to twenty years, and the calculator for pensions (yes, a pension of some kind) builds in years of service, so there's an incentive to stick around.

What will I do when the time comes?  Damned if I know.  I do know I will feel less guilty if my department can't replace me with a tenure track line.  I know I will feel willing to leave if my various funds do well (that they can bounce back from the Trump damage of today) and if Carleton doesn't mess with my pension.  I can't blame people for sticking around for a few extra years, especially since most of us deferred making money for the 5-7 years of grad school and many of us lost control of where we could live long ago.  But I can see the challenge facing governments, and I can also see that if I become obsolete and out of touch, then I should get out of the way.  So, that is really it--will I be contributing when I am 67 or just draining?

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