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The GW Hatchet

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University mulls retirement options

The University is considering redesigning faculty retirement options, looking to create room for new members as economic conditions hamper growth.

With faculty turnover restricted by nationwide budget cuts, universities are struggling to afford additional faculty while older faculty remain in their positions longer.

In the newly created role of vice provost for faculty affairs, Dianne Martin monitors the faculty life cycle from recruitment to retirement.

Martin will spearhead a comprehensive review of the University’s retirement structure this academic year with the goal of granting faculty more control over their futures.

“In the past, people tended to retire between 65 and 70, maybe 75. Now, they’re just hanging on for dear life because the economy is bad,” Martin said.

Under its current structure, periodic buyout packages give faculty the option of voluntarily leaving the University – a method that leaves the decision to push faculty toward retirement in the hands of individual schools’ deans.

The School of Engineering and Applied Science offered buyouts to about half its faculty in October 2010, while the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences extended a similar option to 20 percent of its full-time professors in May of that year.

According to SEAS professors who received buyout letters, GW’s increasing emphasis on research was named as a reason for the program, which allowed new research-focused faculty to join the University as others left.

Provost Steven Lerman, who approves all buyout packages, noted the lack of consistency associated with the episodic practice. By making programs available periodically, buyouts leave faculty wondering when opportunities to withdraw will arise.

“The trade off is you get predictability, but you do have to make a long-term budgetary commitment to it,” Lerman said.

To “get rid of all that mystery,” Martin said the University is studying retirement models at other private universities to develop a more organized set of strategies.

Some of the potential models on the table include a phased method that allows faculty to work part-time for a series of years before retiring, a terminal sabbatical approach that reserves a faculty member’s final year for professional development or a more consistent form of buyouts.

At the University of Chicago, separate retirement designs for staff and faculty provide more than one option, supporting “both a longevity model for staff and a more portable model for faculty who may move around to other universities during their careers,” Executive Director of Benefits Michael Knitter said.

Philip Wirtz, a member of the Faculty Senate’s appointment, salary and promotion policies committee and a professor in the School of Business, sees the review process as an opportunity for faculty to be more involved in retirement decisions.

“I would hope that once we get past that [studying] stage, they would take it to the faculty or the Faculty Senate and let them review and work with administrators side-by-side,” he said.

Martin hopes to finalize retirement plans by the end of the year, either rolling out the changes in phases or applying them all at once.

Revising retirement structures will open up space for the University to bring in young scholars, Lerman said.

“You need new scholars at each point and you need mature, seasoned scholars at a university,” he said. “But there’s this danger of choking off the input and not having enough positions in universities to provide those opportunities for the new scholars who are often at the most innovative portions of their careers and you want the right balance.”

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