[The Montana Professor 16.1, Fall 2005 <http://mtprof.msun.edu>]

Orphaned at Age 67: An Organization for Retired Faculty at MSU-Bozeman

Robert J. Swenson
Physics (Emeritus)


--Bob Swenson
Bob Swenson
The past is but the beginning of a beginning, and all that is and has been is but the twilight of the dawn. --H.G. Wells

Over the past seven years, while making the transition from being an MSU faculty member and administrator to being an emeritus professor, I have had the opportunity to have conversations with a number of retired faculty members from MSU. All too frequently, I learned from these retirees that for them retirement from MSU was an event, not a process. There was the canonical "gold watch" (an MSU gold and blue blanket) and "hand shake" (a reception) and then the "door was closed" and the retiree became "orphaned at sixty seven," separated from and ignored by his or her academic family of 30 years.


In order to address a number of concerns raised in these conversations, over the past academic year a group of retired faculty members at MSU-Bozeman has formed an organization called the Association of Retired Faculty (ARF). The purpose of ARF is to foster the benefit, interests and well being of retired and retiring faculty members through social, educational and promotional activities, as well as to encourage continuing retiree contact and involvement with the University. It is our feeling that the "thank you and good bye" tradition needs to be replaced by a new, more humane, and more flexible retirement process which is an example of the institution showing appreciation, commitment and respect for the older faculty. Their appropriate treatment will encourage younger faculty members by showing them how they may expect to be treated in later years.

In the process of forming ARF, we found that we were in accord with national trends. In this article some of the national trends will be described as well as what we have been doing as an association.

In the Chronicle of Higher Education article entitled "Emeritus Centers Bring Retired Professors Back to Campus" (7 Feb. 2003) author Piper Fogg states, "...with an aging professorate, institutions and retirees alike have recognized the value of professors' staying involved. Retired faculty members teach or otherwise offer their years of experience in ways that directly benefit an institution. Emeritus groups can offer tangible perks like office space, computer-training seminars, and parking privileges, as well as intellectual and social stimulation."

National retired faculty organizations have recently been formed in the U.S. and Canada. In the U.S. a national organization, the Association of Retirement Organizations in Higher Education, was officially incorporated in March 2002 and held its organizational meeting and inaugural conference in October of that year. AROHE's mission is to carry out various educational activities, including forums for the development and sharing of ideas to assist retiree organizations in achieving their goals. This process aims to result in new models of retirement in higher education.

In Canada, a national organization was formed in May 2003 when participants to the First College and University Retirees Association of Canada (CURAC) conference gathered at a founding meeting at Dalhousie University.

The Association of Retired Faculty at Montana State University believes it is timely to review policies related to faculty retirement and to suggest appropriate changes.All of these are important considerations for faculty contemplating retirement, as well as those who have already retired.


I have learned that the best classroom in the world is at the feet of an elderly person. --Andy Rooney

In 1889 Germany set the retirement age at 70 (most would not live this long!). Just prior to WWI, Germany lowered the age to 65. In the U.S. the Social Security Act of 1935 set the retirement age at 65, and then changed eligibility for Social Security to 62 in 1962. In 1983 Congress began a phased increase in age eligibility for Social Security Benefits, in part because the percent of the population over age 65 was rapidly increasing--in 1930 5.4% were over 65 and it is estimated that by 2020 16% will be over 65.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1987 eliminated mandatory age-based retirement except for tenured professors, where age 70 was set as the mandatory retirement age for a period of seven years. On January 1, 1994, the mandatory retirement age was removed entirely for faculty; since then whether to retire or not has been solely up to a tenured faculty member. A Higher Education Act Amendment in 1998 permits universities to offer voluntary retirement incentives that are age dependent (i.e., can be initiated and withdrawn at a certain ages or phased in and out over several years).

Before the elimination of mandatory retirement, universities were able to plan effectively for personnel changes or for changing directions or maintaining continuity in departments. During the past decade, however, voluntary retirement has required that universities look for new ways to encourage retirement, to discourage retirement, or to spread out retirement, depending on individual and departmental circumstances. This has led to a redefinition and importance of the emeritus rank, an increased spectrum of benefits, opportunities, and expectations for retired faculty, and the introduction of voluntary retirement incentives that include formal phased retirement programs.

In the year 2000 AAUP surveyed colleges and universities to see how they had changed faculty retirement policies. (See The Survey Of Changes In Faculty Retirement Policies (2000), updated August 2003, by Ronald G. Ehrenberg, AAUP Reports.) Some quotations from that report follow.

Slightly less than half of the respondents...reported that their institutions have had one or more financial incentive programs since 1995 that encouraged tenured faculty members to retire prior to age 70.

Only 27% of the survey respondents have formal programs that permit tenured faculty members to gradually transition into retirement...(see table below).

Percentage of Institutions in each category that currently have a formal phased retirement program*
Institutional Category
(Doctoral) 50% (26) 31% (97) 35% (123)
IIA (Masters) 33% (69) 23% (115) 29% (184)
IIB (Baccalaureate) 31% (114) 24% (38) 29% (152)
III (2 yr. w/ faculty ranks) 0% (1) 14% (70) 14% (71)
IV (2 yr. w/o faculty ranks) 0% (4) 19% (73) 18% (77)
OVERALL 35% (214) 23% (393) 27% (607)
*numbers in parentheses are the number of institutions that provided responses to the question.

In almost 85% of the institutions, faculty members who retire are eligible to have the title emeritus professor conferred upon them. In about half of these institutions it is fairly routine for all retiring tenured faculty to have the title conferred upon them, while in the remaining half the title is subject to the discretion of the university administration.

The survey also requested information about a set of benefits that many faculty members may perceive to be important if they are to continue their professional involvement in retirement. (See table below.)

Percentage of public doctoral institutions that provide each listed benefit to retirees
Office space
Secretarial assistance
Access to university computer systems
Travel funds
lab space same as tenured faculty
Eligible for research grants
Contribute to health insurance

In April of 2004, the TIAA-CREF Institute held a conference entitled "Recruitment, Retention, and Retirement: The Three R's of Higher Education in the 21st Century." (See <http://www.tiaa-crefinstitute.org>.) A paper prepared for that conference by John Pencavel, "Faculty Retirement Incentives by Colleges and Universities," discusses many of the retirement incentives available at U.S. Universities. He notes that since the end of mandatory retirement in 1994, faculty are continuing with their university careers much later in life. It was widely speculated in the mid '90s that as a result of the elimination of mandatory retirement the tenure system would be under attack and replaced by some form of fixed, long-term contract. That has not happened; rather, universities have accommodated in two ways: (1) offering a variety of incentives, often age based, for older faculty to retire, and (2) expanding considerably the use of non-tenure track faculty, such as instructors and adjuncts.

General discussion

People who retire at age 65 today could spend 25 percent of their adulthood in retirement? Aside from the obvious financial implications for the individual and society, such a "brain drain" in the workforce is simply wasteful. --Diane G. Smathers

Joel S. Savishinsky, anthropologist, in Breaking the Watch--the Meaning of Retirement in America (2000) studied the lives of 26 retired individuals. He asked the question, "Is there more to retirement than the gold watch and a hand shake?" He reached several conclusions: Retirement should be viewed as an ongoing process or transition, not a specific event or date. It should be a period of time tailored to the needs, desires, abilities, and wishes of the individual. The retirement process should be flexible to recognize that not one size fits all, to recognize the many academic life style choices and needs.

There a several important aspects of the transition to retirement. Unfortunately, many retirees do not adequately consider all of them before they leave the university. It is essential to plan carefully one's financial affairs, the area most considered. It is equally important to plan for the quality of life, defining some of the things about which to be passionate with a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Generally faculty are passionate and enthusiastic about their teaching and creative activities and academic life in general. These must be transferred to other activities of retirement. Some faculty can make this transition quickly, and for others considerable time is required. The retirement process needs to be flexible enough to accommodate this variability. A number of universities have established "Senior Scholars Academies" or "Emeriti Colleges" which provide benefits to the transitioning faculty as well as very tangible benefits to the university.

The MSU-Bozeman situation

What follows is a discussion of some of the areas where changes or additions could have positive affects on faculty in transition to retirement and which are under active consideration by the MSU ARF.

MSU does not have university-wide criteria for emeritus status. Rather, each department establishes its own criteria. From discussions with retirees, there are substantial differences among departments. ARF requested of all departments, on two separate occasions, that they send a copy of their criteria--only one department responded. Since all retiring faculty should be treated equitably, a revised emeritus policy is suggested. The complete suggested revised policy is available from the author.

Elements of a proposed new MSU emeritus policy

Automatic conferral of emeritus status:

The following shall be accorded emeritus faculty status automatically when they retire from the University under honorable circumstances, including permanent disability sick leave, after serving the University for a significant period of time: (1) regular faculty; and (2) central administrative officers, deans and directors, if they also hold regular faculty status.

Permissive conferral of emeritus status:

  1. Presidents who do not qualify for emeritus status automatically may receive emeritus status after a successful career by action of the Board of Regents.
  2. Upon the recommendation of the dean and with the approval of the Provost, the following may be accorded emeritus status: (a.) Regular faculty who retire before having served a significant period of time. (b.) Research or adjunct faculty who retire after a successful career at the University.
  3. Upon the recommendation of the Provost, central administrative officers, deans, and directors who also hold regular faculty status who retire or terminate their service to the University before having served a significant period of time but have had a successful career may be accorded emeritus status.
  4. In all cases of permissive conferral, the dean(s) or Provost, shall confer with appropriate faculty bodies and shall accord great weight to the opinions of those faculty bodies before making a recommendation.

Benefits and privileges

Retirement is either a stage in life to be feared, or an opportunity to be seized. The choice is ours. --William Dando

One of the important considerations of faculty contemplating retirement is the benefits and privileges they have as retirees. ARF proposes a number of changes in existing policies which may be beneficial and appropriate.

Present policy: Emeritus faculty members continue to enjoy library privileges, may attend, without vote, meetings of their department and college, and will become honorary members of the Alumni Association. Since the resources of the various departments vary, no university-wide policy can guarantee access to office or laboratory space or secretarial help. Such accommodations may be extended to emeritus faculty as available, with the understanding that the instructional, research, and service requirements of the tenurable faculty have priority. The university may act as fiscal agent for grant and contract proposals submitted by emeritus faculty. Any or all privileges granted emeritus faculty may be rescinded should it become necessary to do so.

ARF's proposed policy: Montana State University provides benefits and privileges to emeritus faculty members so that they can continue to be active in university and professional activities. It also provides some benefits and privileges to retired non-emeritus faculty members in recognition of their service and support of the University.

Support for the MSU Association of Retired Faculty

In recognition of the importance of continued involvement of retired faculty, MSU will provide space for the Association of Retired Faculty which will include room(s) with conference table/chairs, several desks and chairs, phone, fax and copy machine, e-mail and internet access, computer, printer, lounge chairs, filing cabinets, and part time receptionist. MSU will provide for Web space and postal address and a small budget to cover publications of interest to the retired and about-to-retire faculty.

Benefits and privileges for emeritus and retired non-emeritus faculty members

  1. Library privileges for retirees and spouses will be continued as before retirement.
  2. Honorary membership in the MSU Alumni Association will be provided. Opportunities for retirees to serve as hosts/faculty/lecturers on MSU cruises and trips should be considered.
  3. All retirees and spouses will be issued a Retiree Gold Card (One Card) which is used to obtain the attendant benefits including 10% discounts at the MSU Bookstore and 25% reduction on ticket prices to athletic and cultural events,
  4. Physical fitness activities and facilities will be available to retirees and spouses at the same fees and under the same conditions as regular faculty.
  5. Retirees and spouses may take/audit courses without need to enroll or pay fees, but permission of instructor is required.
  6. Free lifetime parking privileges will be provided.
  7. Medical and pharmacy insurance is available to retirees as part of the self-insured Montana University System plan. Spouses and/or domestic partners are included. This is a lifetime privilege. If one chooses to drop off of the plan, it is not possible to rejoin. Presently the entire premium is borne by the retiree. Future considerations should include:
    1. the state paying part of the premiums, and
    2. retirees getting the same health care benefits as before retirement.

Additional benefits and privileges for emeritus faculty members

(Some privileges granted emeritus faculty may be rescinded should it become necessary to do so. This will be done with the participation of and in consultation with the Association of Retired Faculty.)

  1. Attendance at department and college meetings is encouraged, but emeriti do not have a right to vote. Emeriti are considered members of the General Faculty. They may be appointed ex officio members of Faculty Senate or its subcommittees and may be appointed by chairpersons to serve as members of University, College, or Departmental committees.
  2. The university will act as fiscal agent for grant and contract proposals.
  3. Use of office and/or laboratory space will be agreed upon in writing during the retirement process, as will usage of equipment. Departments shall endeavor to meet reasonable scholarly and academic needs of emeritus faculty in a manner consistent with continuing contributions to the mission of the department and university, within limits governed by the availability of resources, and balanced against other needs and priorities. Each department should negotiate specific agreements for each individual case, for a specific period of time, and document these agreements in writing.
  4. With the agreement of the department head, emeriti can continue to chair graduate student committees and serve on graduate committees.
  5. Administrative/secretarial assistance will be made available.
  6. Small grants to promote continued research and scholarly activities will be made available on a competitive basis through the Office of the Vice President of Research. These include travel awards for professional activities.
  7. Email and Internet accounts will be available with off-campus access. Technical IT assistance and access to IT courses will be provided by the ITC. Phone usage and access to University computers will also be available.
  8. Emeriti will be listed in the catalog, on departmental brochures and web pages, in university directories, and in any other appropriate university information database.
  9. Emeriti will be on mailing lists for appropriate university materials, the same lists they were on as regular faculty.
  10. Emeriti are eligible to march in graduation and other formal ceremonies of the University.

Early retirement incentives, including phased retirement

ERIs that include some type of phased retirement option promise to have the greatest influence on retirement planning. --Sarah Montgomery

Since the removal of the mandatory retirement age, decisions to retire are complex and involve a variety of considerations. One of these relates to the benefits and privileges as discussed above, another to incentives offered to faculty considering retirement. From 1995 to 2000 46% of Doctoral Universities had introduced one or more financial incentive programs and 35% had introduced formal phased retirement programs. (See The Survey of Changes in Faculty Retirement Policies (2000) by Ronald G. Ehrenberg, AAUP Reports.) It is believed that these percentages have continued to climb over the past five years.

Retirement incentive programs

The university should seek methods to fund incentive programs, such as

  1. Cash buyouts (Early Retirement Plan). On a case-by-case basis, cash buyouts of up to one year's salary may be negotiated. Normally the amount of the buyout will decrease with age and time in rank. (Example at Yale University: This program provides a salary supplement to eligible faculty members who elect to retire at or over age 62 and before the "normal" retirement age of 70. The maximum amount of the subsidy, available at age 67, is 60% of the participant's last three-year average salary plus 2% for each additional year of service over 15. The amount begins to decline at age 68. The subsidy takes the form of one taxable payment at retirement.)
  2. Retirement benefit increment. For each year of employment as a tenured faculty member, one month of additional service credit may be made available, up to a maximum of 3 years. (This could be phased as in (1).)
  3. Terminal leave. Paid terminal leave of up to one year may be available which will provide an agreed-upon monthly salary and contributions to the retirement service and annuities.

Phased retirement programs

Subject to administrative approval, tenured faculty members may enter a phased retirement program that allows them to gradually transition into retirement by working part-time for a number of years before they formally retire. To be eligible, a faculty member must have been a faculty member for a minimum of 15 years and be a minimum of 57 years of age. Normal annual raises will be awarded. Faculty members who enroll in such plans must relinquish their tenure and formally agree to retire within an agreed upon number of years. During the phased retirement period, institution and faculty member contributions will continue for life insurance, health and dental insurance, and disability insurance at the same levels that would have prevailed under a full-time appointment. As mandated by law, FICA contributions will be based on the staff member's actual salary during the partial or pre-retirement period. Accrual of vacation and sick leave will be based on percentage of appointment. (The Utah State University plan: there are three potential salary components. One component is due to regular academic responsibilities/salary where the FTE percentage is reduced by at least 20% (0.8 FTE). As mutually agreed, the responsibilities may be reduced further in 0.2 FTE steps. The FTE level cannot be increased. The annual salary can be increased based on university guidelines. The second component is a financial incentive. It is an amount paid by the university into an approved supplemental retirement account of choice for the individual. The amount of the financial incentive is the difference between what the university contributes to the participant's retirement fund before and after the phased retirement takes effect. The third component is that the phased retiree will NOT be limited in salary payments or time spent for sporadic or occasional activities not related to the primary assignment.)

Partial reemployment after retirement (post-retirement contract)

Retired faculty members may be reemployed up to 50% time without losing retirement benefits. (50% seems to be the norm at many universities.) These "part-time" appointments must be determined to be in the best interests of the faculty member and result in a benefit to the university. Normally, the details will be agreed to in writing during the process leading to a retirement agreement and will include a specified period of time. This should be done through discussions with the department chairman at least one semester before the start date. Annual increases in salary are based on regular salary policies. Group insurance and other employee benefits are available.


MSU ARF recognizes that some of these suggestions already exist to some extent, and that many will take time to consider, will change with time, will require resources, and will require system-wide policy changes. However, we also recognize that it is to the mutual benefit of the faculty and the university to consider changes, some significant, in the relationship between the older faculty, retirees, and the university.

[The Montana Professor 16.1, Fall 2005 <http://mtprof.msun.edu>]

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