While Yale’s new faculty retirement program is intended to ease financial concerns, professors said the prospect of leaving their jobs and going “cold turkey” is frightening for a host of emotional reasons as well.
Retirement is hard for more than financial reasons, five professors said — departing a post at Yale means leaving behind an intellectual community as well as a job. The new Faculty Phased Retirement Plan allows faculty to gradually, rather than abruptly, conclude their teaching careers.
Ever since the recession depleted personal savings accounts, professors have been more hesitant to retire. At the same time, the University has announced that the Faculty of Arts and Sciences will not grow from its current size of 710 members because of tight finances. Slots will open for new hires only when current faculty members leave, making retirement essential. Five professors interviewed said they see they plan as incentive for older faculty to leave, but understand that the push is necessary.
The new program, released by the Provost’s Office in mid-December 2010, offers a salary sweetener to offset professors’ financial concerns: they can teach 50 percent of their normal course load for three years while earning on average 75 percent of their original salary.
But faculty members say financial concerns are often secondary hesitations about retirement.
“People who have spent their lives as scholars — and if they’re at Yale they tend to be accomplished and distinguished — derive a large part of their identity from being a professor at Yale,” History Professor Daniel Kevles said. “For people who are still vigorous and like teaching as I do, it can be a wrench … it’s coming face-to-face with the fact that you’re mortal.”
A LESS ABRUPT TRANSITION
Provost Peter Salovey said the phased retirement program is not only aimed at alleviating financial burdens, but also addresses the fact that retirement is a major life change, and that many faculty members are reluctant to abandon their posts.
Professors said they appreciate the way the new program “phases out” teaching over the course of several years. English Professor Ruth Yeazell GRD ’71 said her emotional concerns about retirement outweigh her financial ones, and that she would consider eventually electing the plan.
“I think it’s clearly designed to be an attractive way of enabling people to think about the possibility of retirement,” Yeazell said. “Obviously for many people the issue of having to go cold turkey on it is hard.”
Professors can remain a part of the Yale community after they leave. Once they complete the three-year plan, retired faculty retain access to Yale’s libraries and online resources, their University e-mail account and unchanged membership rates for joining Payne Whitney Gym.
“Faculty who are considering retiring recognize that it represents a big change in their daily activities about which they feel passionately,” Salovey said in a Jan. 19 interview. “Phased retirement allows one to make a transition that is much less abrupt.”
Faculty are still eligible for the benefits they had when they worked full-time while they work a partial load. The plan defines a 50 percent workload as teaching one course per semester (a normal load is two courses a semester), or teaching two courses for only one semester.
Faculty members aged 65 to 70 may elect to use the phased retirement program, while faculty over age 70 have a “one-time” option to choose the plan before Aug. 31.
Deputy Provost for Faculty Development Frances Rosenbluth said Sunday she thinks there are more than 30 faculty members eligible for the program.
Edwin Duval GRD ’71 ’73, the director of undergraduate studies for French, said another attraction of the plan is that it eliminates the “very wearing” administrative tasks required of faculty. Instead of serving on committees for their last three years, Duval said, faculty can focus on teaching.
“One of the attractive things to me about this plan is that we can teach half our teaching load for three years with no administrative responsibilities,” he said, adding that he will likely elect the plan in the next three or four years. “It seems a wonderful way to me to be able to end a career at Yale, by doing what you love most.”
‘PART OF A PUBLICITY STUNT’
A new website, launched by the Provost’s Office to consolidate information about faculty retirement, includes videos that are intended to calm professors’ worries about life after teaching.
“We noticed that when faculty members searched the Yale website using the term “retirement,” they didn’t find anything systematic explaining how Yale’s retirement programs work nor the various benefits that faculty members can expect when they retire,” Salovey said in an e-mail Sunday. “Retirement is a very personal decision but we thought that at least the University could provide information about it in a clear and systematic way.”
Video interviews with five professors — Kevles and four professors emeriti — are supposed to give insight into retirement. Kevles speaks about why he elected to use the new retirement program, and the other clips focus on the professors emeriti discussing how they have spent the next phase of their lives.
Salovey said the video conversations were intended as a “comfortable discussion starter” for faculty who may find talks about retirement awkward.
Kevles, Professor Emeritus Kai Erikson, Professor Emeritus Werner Wolf and Professor Emeritus Bernard Lytton all said they did not know why the Provost’s Office contacted them about giving video interviews.
“They wanted to do it as part of a publicity stunt to get people to retire,” said Lytton, who serves as director of the Henry Koerner Center for Emeritus Faculty.
Four other professors agreed that the plan is evidence that the University is encouraging older faculty to retire. There is no set age at which professors must retire, meaning tenured faculty members can work as long as they want or are able.
After the economic crisis hit in 2008, Kevles said he used to joke with colleagues that he would continue teaching until “they carried me out of the lecture hall.”
Still, Kevles and Lytton said the financial perks of the plan are not great enough to make it a true “buy-out.” If anything, Kevles said the program is a “better sweetener” for those considering retirement.
All in all, Kevles said he looks forward to finishing the administrative hassles associated with teaching at Yale, but does not fear forgoing his academic experiences.
“I’m going to retire from those obligations,” Kevles said. “I’m not going to retire from being an active scholar and writer.”
The retirement website also aggregates frequently asked questions, details of the retirement plan, a letter from Salovey, and other information about benefits during and after retirement.