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‘You’ll Pry that Course from My Cold, Dead Hands …’

A recent story in The Chronicle discussed ways to encourage faculty members to ease into retirement.

I’ve had some friends who retired from the professoriate while they were still at the top of their game, leaving us all wishing that we could have enjoyed a few more years of collegiality. I’ve also had some who went through excruciating professional interventions when it was clear that they were actually unable to continue teaching effectively. The range of experiences is as diverse as are the people who are moving into retirement.

One approach that I occasionally hear about is where a faculty member is allowed to retire at full pension while still teaching one course a year or a semester at a nice contract rate. I know of one situation where a new faculty member was hired to fill the specialty area of a retiring professor of, let’s call it “medieval French fish farming.” The department was well past ready for the retirement to occur and had found a high-energy, entry-level colleague who brought many skills to the department. Upon arrival, however, the new faculty member and her department chair found out that the dean had promised the retiring faculty member that he could continue teaching the fall and spring fish-farming courses as long as he wished. The new faculty member was confused by the development, and the department chair was livid at being left out of the decision. The last I heard, the department chair was considering offering two sections of fish-farming courses per semester, knowing that the students would take the new professor and leaving the other section under-enrolled and primed for cancellation.

How should deans and department chairs balance the important task of honoring the service of a long-time colleague with providing a hedge against a forceful response of “you’ll pry that course from my cold, dead hands”?

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