Faculty encouraged to retire

Yale’s new retirement plan aims to address a problem that professors say plagues universities across the country.

The new Faculty Phased Retirement Plan, released by the Provost’s Office in mid-December, aims to open slots for new faculty hires by giving older professors incentive to retire in a time when the University’s finances remain tight. While Provost Peter Salovey said the program is intended to make room for fresh intellectual perspectives in the University’s faculty, professors said it may also alleviate financial concerns for older faculty whose productivity has slowed, but who are reluctant to retire in a tough economy.

Retirement is a complex issue for universities, said Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry Thomas Steitz. While most industries and businesses can ask workers to leave based on their performance, Steitz said, universities cannot ask the same of tenured faculty.

“That is a challenge, I have to say, because I know some tenured faculty members who are doing spectacularly well through their 70s, their 80s, and some who, to be frank, weren’t doing so well when they reached their 50s,” Steitz said.

Tenured faculty aged 65 to 70 who have worked at Yale for at least 10 years are eligible for the program, which is designed to ease their transition into retirement, Salovey said. Under the plan, faculty will keep 50 percent of their former workload while earning all of their original income in the first year, 75 percent in the second year, and 50 percent in the third year. Faculty members may retire after the first or second year, but must retire by the end of the third year.

It remains to be seen whether the program will be effective.

The retirement of tenured faculty would be a cost-saving measure for Yale in the short term, said Judaic Studies Program Chair Steven Fraade. Younger faculty cost the University less in benefits and salaries, he said. Yale’s finances remain undeniably tight, as Salovey and University President Richard Levin have announced the University will see another round of budget cuts for the 2011–’12 academic year to close a $68 million deficit.

Many faculty members have been reluctant to retire in the wake of a nationwide economic crisis that shrunk retirement savings, Fraade said. All investments took a hit in 2008 and have recovered at varying speeds, said Peter Brooks, professor emeritus of comparative literature, prompting faculty members to reevaluate the years they need to work before retirement.

Considering the high salaries tenured faculty can earn, Steitz said it creates a problem when these faculty members do not retire from posts at Yale even though they are declining in productivity.

“They’re being paid very good salaries because that increases as time goes on,” he said. “If they’re not doing a very good job in the department, teaching, doing their scholarly work, then they’re not a very good value from the University perspective.”

Salovey said the main goal of the enhanced retirement plan is to make the transition more attractive to faculty. If more professors opt to retire, Salovey said, their departures will allow Yale to hire new members.

Faculty renewal is essential to every university, Salovey said. Increased faculty retirement helps ensure that Yale brings in fresh ideas and intellectual perspectives, professors and administrators interviewed said.

“Although the wisdom of our most experienced faculty is always appreciated, departments and schools also benefit from the inflow of the new ideas that come with newly hired faculty,” Salovey said. “It’s important to strike a balance between the two.”

No faculty members have currently elected to participate in the program, as the Provost’s Office has yet to release full details of the plan, Deputy Provost Lloyd Suttle said in an e-mail Monday. He added that additional information should come in the next few weeks.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences currently has an all-time high of 710 members.

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