Over the past few months, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate and University Provost Scott Strobel have debated reforms to a faculty buyout plan that was widely controversial among Yale professors.
The Retirement Incentive Plan, released in August, allows faculty aged 70 and older to accept a one-time payment of $200,000 and retire by June 2021. If the tenured professor’s salary is equal to $200,000, they can receive a one-year payment to retire. If the salary is below the threshold, they can earn 125 percent of their salary, up to $200,000. 177 faculty members are eligible for the payout, but they have to sign on by the end of February to secure the benefits.
“Because of the absence of a well-designed retirement plan, the proportion of ladder faculty who are tenured has risen continuously, and 16% of the ladder faculty are currently 70 and over,” a Jan. 21 report from the FAS Senate reads. “We hope that, moving forward, the University will establish a faculty committee that will improve both the process and the substance of retirement plans that are available to the faculty.”
An inter-school faculty working group analyzed the plan and released a set of recommendations to alter it. The faculty objected to the fact that the Provost’s Office did not consult faculty in drafting the plan. Additionally, they were concerned that the buyout set a rigid retirement date. The professors also cited a slew of issues with the financial and tax aspects of the plan.
After the faculty working group released its initial report, Strobel responded in a Dec. 7 email, saying that the administration was aiming to provide an option for faculty experiencing extreme uncertainty brought on by the pandemic. The University does not plan to offer the option again in the future, he wrote.
The FAS Senate released additional questions and commentary on the plan on Jan. 21, to which the provost will soon reply, Strobel wrote in an email to the News.
One of the faculty’s central qualms with the plan was that it was developed without widespread faculty consultation. 16 percent of Yale’s ladder faculty is aged 70 or older, they wrote, and there is a need for a faculty committee to help form a flexible and generous retirement plan.
Still, Strobel wrote in the Dec. 7 email that he had consulted with Yale’s deans and the University’s Benefits Office in crafting the plan.
“Given the time constraints and the widespread disruptions of the pandemic, I felt that consulting with all the deans and select others provided a solid grounding for what would be a time-limited offer,” Strobel wrote in the email to faculty.
But the FAS Senate noted that though deans are also faculty members, they are part of Yale’s administration and the president’s cabinet. Solely consulting deans “cannot substitute for shared governance,” they wrote.
Strobel invited interested faculty members to speak with the Benefits Office and Vice Provost Emily Bakemeier to clarify any specific reservations they had.
The FAS Senate report, however, noted that the provost’s invitation for faculty members to discuss their complaints with administrators means that individual faculty, who might be unaware of the intricacies of the policies, have the onus of initiating a meeting. The report called this approach “unwieldy and inefficient.” It also noted that there is no central location for faculty to read all of the policies related to retirement, specifically as to how the Retirement Incentive Plan would work with normal post-retirement benefits.
The majority of the provost’s email defended different aspects of the plan, such as its quick conception during the pandemic. However, Strobel did implement one suggestion from faculty to offer alternative payment options other than a lump sum payment. Now, faculty can receive the payment in installments over two years.
“It is not always the case that spreading the payment over two years reduces total taxes for some individuals,” Strobel wrote, “because the second installment would generate additional employment taxes and potentially expose a retiree to an additional year of income-based surcharges to Medicare.”
Paul Kennedy, J. Richardson Dilworth Professor of history, described a core issue among faculty that the Provost’s response fails to address: that some faculty would still like to teach a course or instruct in a reduced capacity, rather than retiring altogether.
While Yale might be able to address all of the fiscal concerns, Kennedy noted that “many faculty” considered Yale’s approach to a complete retirement “abrupt” and “cold.”
“[Faculty] dislike Yale’s ‘once you’re out, you are OUT’ attitude,” he wrote in an email to the News.
James Scott, Sterling Professor emeritus of political science, told the News that he agrees with the concerns outlined by the FAS Senate report. Scott retired at the end of the fall 2020 semester, telling the News in an email that he was already considering doing so, but the incentive package “solidified my decision.”
Further, he called the concerns of the FAS Senate and subsequent communications with the provost an inevitable result of Yale’s “autocratic” governance, one that functions without consistent consultation of faculty, staff and students.
“It raises the vital question of the degree to which a University ought to be run democratically, who precisely are its citizens, and how their power ought to be institutionalized,” Scott wrote to the News.
University spokesperson Karen Peart referred the News to a statement from Strobel in which he described that he and faculty have “had ongoing conversation” regarding the retirement plan.
Most universities have some sort of retirement incentive program in place — some, like Yale, added additional policies due to the coronavirus pandemic. Harvard University, for example, is adding an additional benefit of one year’s pay, on top of their normal retirement package.
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Correction, Feb. 3: This article has been updated to clarify that Peart did respond to a request for comment and referred the News to a separate statement.