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Survey explores faculty attitudes on retirement

A significant number of MIT faculty picked 70 or older as an ideal retirement age in a survey undertaken by the Committee on Faculty Administration.

However, Professor R. John Hansman Jr., chairman of the CFA, said the "ideal" age given by respondents advanced with the age of respondents.

This not unexpected result highlights the concern that traditional retirement plans will be altered now that the federal government has eliminated a mandatory retirement age.

Deferring retirement past the traditional age of 70 poses serious questions about how the Institute can continue to add young assistant professors to the faculty and maintain intellectual renewal, Professor Lawrence S. Bacow said at the November 15 faculty meeting at which Professor Hansman presented the results of the survey done during the last academic year.

Professor Bacow, chairman of the Faculty Policy Committee (FPC), said that the survey "provides the first real data we have on how faculty members view their retirement plans."

The FPC met twice in the fall "to consider how the Institute should adapt to an environment in which mandatory retirement no longer exists for university faculty," Professor Bacow said.

The FPC, he said, was "unanimous in its view that if the faculty as a group elected to defer retirement beyond age 70, the ability of the Institute to provide for the intellectual renewal of the faculty could be severely compromised." He said the FPC concluded that ways to encourage faculty to plan for orderly retirement should be found.

It is clear from the survey data, he went on, that faculty "care about their status post-retirement.

"Currently, a faculty member who retires gives up tenure and immediately becomes Professor Emeritus. While in the past this title was viewed as an honor, at least some faculty now perceive that emeritus status signals a significantly diminished role within the Institute and the larger scholarly community." While many emeriti "continue to maintain active teaching and research careers well into their retirement," he went on, there is a perception "that the title `Professor Emeritus' may restrict the capacity of retired faculty to compete for research grants or otherwise inhibit their ability to participate in scholarly activities.

"As a result, the FPC concluded that retirement may be more attractive to some faculty if it were less visible to the rest of the world."

He asked for faculty reaction to what he called a "modest proposal:" allowing retired faculty to retain the title of professor for a fixed period following retirement. Five years was mentioned.

He made it clear the FPC was not proposing the creation of a new category of appointment of professor without tenure, saying only those who previously held the rank of professor with tenure would be entitled to be called professor after retirement.

Comments can be e-mailed to . If the faculty support the proposal, he said, the FPC will recommend a change in Policies and Procedures.

The faculty survey was sent to all 1,100 full-time faculty and the 245 emeritus faculty for which addresses were available, Professor Hansman said. The response of 22-24 percent was good, given the length of the survey, he said. The mean age of the full-time faculty who responded was 55.

He gave survey highlights, including these:

About 85 percent indicated a level of interest in part-time faculty positions. Fifty percent said such a move was "highly desirable."

Fewer than 10 percent of respondents said they wanted little contact with the Institute after retirement.

Health plan eligibility was high on the list of important factors influencing retirement. The fact that such eligibility is retained after retirement indicates that this should be a non-issue in terms of retirement planning, but there is obviously some education needed, he said.

When asked what level of faculty-wide reduction the respondent would be willing to accept to fund positions for retired faculty, about half said they would accept some reduction, 20 percent said no reduction should be made and 10 percent said a cut of 50 faculty was acceptable, Professor Hansman reported.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 6, 1995.

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