Daniel Zhao, Senior Photographer
Faced with financial uncertainty brought by the coronavirus pandemic, the University hurriedly drafted a faculty buyout retirement plan, which a faculty working group has now responded to with a list of concerns — the most notable being that the plan was developed without faculty consultation.
In August, University Provost Scott Strobel announced the retirement plan, which offers tenured faculty age 70 or older payment equal to $200,000 if their yearly salary is equal to or greater than $200,000. If their salary is less than $200,000, faculty members can receive a payment of 125 percent of this year’s salary up to $200,000. To receive the compensation, faculty have to retire by the end of June 2021. 177 faculty members are eligible for the compensation, provided they sign on by Feb. 28, 2021.
But in creating the plan, the administration did not consult any faculty members. The Inter-school Faculty Working Group’s response to the plan cited financial complications for the faculty that choose to retire under the plan as well as the implications of asking faculty to quickly make a clean break with their longtime place of work.
“I found the ‘offer’ insulting and cold-hearted, also very unattractive,” T. Lawrason Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies Carlos Eire wrote in an email to the News. “Glad to see Faculty Senate reaction [and] suggestions.”
University spokesperson Karen Peart said that though some of the concerns and suggestions in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences response are “well-placed,” others are based on an incomplete understanding of the plan. The Provost’s Office and FAS Dean’s Office are working with the Benefits Office to draft a document of clarification, which they will distribute to faculty in the first weeks of December, Peart added.
Additionally, faculty discussed the plan at the Nov. 19 FAS Senate meeting. The report, drafted by the Yale Inter-school Faculty Working Group, raised numerous concerns with the incentive plan, and suggested they could have been avoided with faculty consultation.
Firstly, the working group’s response noted that faculty should have been consulted, particularly because the plan will have a significant impact on their lives. This lack of consultation “devalues faculty input,” the working group wrote. For matters that affect faculty, the report added, they have traditionally been consulted — a practice that is also used at other universities.
Peart said that administrators used input from several deans, who are faculty, in creating the plan. When asked why more faculty were not consulted, Peart explained that the University wanted to unveil the plan as soon as possible.
“With the disruption and underlying uncertainties of the pandemic, it was determined that the plan should be available as soon as possible following those conversations,” she wrote in an email to the News.
Under the plan, faculty would receive a buyout comparable to other universities. However, the one-time pay structure means that faculty will have to pay more taxes on the money than if it were spread out over multiple years. Additionally, because salaries were frozen this year due to the pandemic, faculty who accept the buyout would be paid less than they would if the buyout rate reflected what their salary would be under normal conditions. The working group recommended that the base salary for the plan be 3 percent more than faculty members’ salaries last year.
“[The plan] asks faculty members, some of whom have lived their entire adult lives working and teaching at Yale, to make a sudden life-changing decision in a matter of months in return for a cash payment,” the draft report reads.
Additionally, some technical details of the plan are ambiguous or in tension with the Employee Retirement Security Act of 1974, the working group wrote.
In the past, universities had mandatory ages of retirement for faculty until an amendment to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act in 1986 prohibited mandatory retirement ages in the U.S. Since then, Yale has had a phased retirement plan for faculty between the ages of 65 and 70. The plan allows faculty to halve their teaching loads without an equal loss in salary. They may retire fully after year one or two, and must retire by the end of the third year.
But in order to receive buyouts under the new plan, faculty members must make a clean break with Yale after one year. The report notes that the shorter transition period needs to still allow for faculty to retain their connections to the University — an issue not addressed in the initial plan — which can include an office space, the ability to continue teaching and support in place to ensure that faculty who want to can remain integrated in the intellectual fabric of their school and department.
“Retirement should not represent the forced crossing of a bridge to a foreign land, leaving the familiar and cherished attachments of a lifetime of dedication and service behind,” the report reads.
Six faculty members interviewed by the News criticized the plan for the lack of faculty consultation, among other issues.
“The Faculty Working Group raises serious objections that wider consultation could have anticipated,” Robert A. Lovett Professor of History John Gaddis said.
George M. Bodman Professor of English David Kastan agreed, writing in an email to the News that “consultation seems as if it would have been appropriate, and that the Senate seems now to have initiated a conversation that no doubt should have begun earlier.”
James Scott, Sterling Professor of Political Science, wrote in an email to the News that the retirement incentive plan was “‘hatched’ heedlessly and hastily without any significant faculty input, let alone careful thought.”
The report did acknowledge, however, that the plan was developed in response to extraordinary circumstances, making it “understandable” that not every feature was covered. However, it also notes that the plan could potentially exacerbate current problems related to retirement, such as tempting older faculty to turn down this plan in order to wait for a better one. Doing so might not solve the issues of an aging faculty and high ratio of tenured to total ladder faculty, which the current plan is trying to mitigate.
This is a one-time plan, Peart clarified, and the Faculty Phased Retirement Plan will continue to be offered.
The Inter-school Faculty Working Group is made up of faculty from the FAS Senate, School of Medicine, the Law School and the School of Management.
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