Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Geezer Faculties

Last Wednesday I attended a luncheon for Cornell Engineering Faculty Professors Emeriti hosted by the new Dean of Engineering Lance Collins.   The Emeritus group consisted of faculty who have retired in recent years and some who have retired perhaps as much as twenty years ago.   In the vein of there is no free lunch the Dean was looking for feedback about the future of the College of Engineering as well as informing us about the directions he sees for the College.

One of the issues that was discussed was the impact of non-mandatory retirement on the decision of senior faculty to retire.   Post 1994 tenured faculty could remained employed at their discretion at any age up to their death.   As a result there has been an aging of the faculty and perhaps a restriction on the hiring of young assistant professors with new ideas and perhaps new energy and effectiveness.   I have observed that many faculty are now continuing with their work well into their late 70's and some even beyond 80.   Many of them they are unusually productive and provide a wealth of wisdom to impart to the students.  However, in some cases they become high paid albatrosses for the system.

All of this has caused me to ponder what is the tipping point in the life of these individuals that would move them to the emeritus and retirement status.  A little bit of on line investigation shows that most faculty continue in their work because they truly enjoy what they are doing.   However, in some cases financial considerations encourage them to stay employed since they expect that their retirement income will not sustain their life style throughout the remainder of their life.    In some cases failing health tips them into the retirement mode.

I conclude that each faculty member has a unique history and situation that influences their movement to the emeritus status.   Cornell as an institution certainly provides honor for the emeritus status.   One can retire and continue to have access to office and lab facilities appropriate to the contributions you are making.   You can even participate as members of graduate student committees,  do research, write, and advise students.   So you can continue to do what you enjoy doing in a stimulating intellectual environment.  Perhaps the one thing that some people miss in the emeritus status is the power of influencing the direction of the institution by the active senior faculty status.

I chose to retire at 61, fourteen years ago.   Although I could see a productive and enjoyable future as a  tenured professor, the convergence of financial, family and health factors tipped me into the retirement mode.   Thus for the past 14 years I have had the freedom to enjoy raising a young daughter, volunteering in many church and community related venues,  supporting my wife's clergy career and pursuing an average of 75 days a year on the ski slopes.    And at the same time I have continued my Cornell connection which now provides me the opportunity to advise both graduate and undergraduate students and pursue a couple of research ares of my interest.

Post retirement life in the emeritus status is great for me.   I hope that my senior faculty colleagues find the same joy as well before they expire at their desk, in the classroom or in their lab!

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