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Author Topic: Dealing with Early Retirement  (Read 13117 times)
deadcatbounce
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« on: March 12, 2012, 4:48:52 PM »

This may be premature, but I'd be grateful for any insights.

My university (R1 in a cash-strapped area) is in the process of drafting an early retirement package. The department that I chair has, by my back-of-the-envelope calculation, at least a dozen people who would likely be eligible for such a package. I could easily envision losing six of those people before the 2012-2013 school year begins, possibly more if the package is generous enough. We have been losing people at a rapid rate in the past several years, without replacing most of them and the department (Humanities) has shrunk considerably.

If we lose several people for next year (we are already losing four to regular retirement) we will have huge trouble offering our courses even with adjunct replacements, as the people most apt to depart teach in areas where we would have the most difficulty finding qualified adjuncts. Moreover, if they are not replaced with junior people quickly our entire program - particularly our graduate program - could be endangered.

Obviously, I am eager to minimize any potential threats to the department. Has anyone gone through a similar process recently? And if so, what did you do to protect the department?
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brixton
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« Reply #1 on: March 16, 2012, 4:15:35 PM »

I'd start by talking with your Dean (or however high up you have to go) to find out how the package is worded, and what the goals of the university are.  Do they really want to cull the ranks of the top escelon?  How many do they anticipate losing?  Have there been conversations about what will be lost?  I'd definitely voice my concerns about losing 6-12 faculty and ask if they had considered the institutional memory that might be lost by those sorts of cuts.  While budget cutting is admirable, and new faculty can bring life to a department, I think schools can underestimate the loss in losing the older core. 

Pre-emptively express that.  Follow with an email that emphasizes your anxieties.

 If the potential package is part of the gossip stream, you can also broach your department, putting out feelers to see who you really think you'll lose.  In my tiny department, we actually had a frank discussion -- who will stay no matter what?  Who would consider?  Once you have a sense of that, you then can start thinking about a possible restructure.  If this were come to pass, would the college allow you to hire all of the old faculty positions?  Could you squeeze more positions out of them, given the fact that there is so much savings in losing the old core?  (Ha!  Always fun to be optimistic, no?) Start gathering data to show how your department helps the institution.  This is the time to count numbers, and strongly encourage your best and brightest to teach gen ed courses so that you can show the seat numbers that will be lost when they retire.
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mellonia
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« Reply #2 on: March 19, 2012, 3:49:30 PM »

We went through this recently and the intention of my R1 was explicitly NOT to replace people who took the package;  it was seen as a way to save money during the downturn.  All faculty lines of people who took the package went up to the VPA and units needed to argue that they needed them back, with an emphasis on teaching needs rather than salvaging research strength.  It actually wasn't the worst decision in the world, as (with some exceptions) it does look like the units that are getting to replace people who took the package are those that really need to--but in the short term is was very not good.  The exceptions seemed to occur when the unit (Chair, Dean, whatever) wasn't good at making the argument, even when people 'in the know' saw that there probably really was a need--at least to my eyes, and I'm not all-knowing! 


Anyway, our situation was just the opposite of what brixton is imagining, as those of us left are expected to still keep the numbers up, hires aren't automatic, etc.  As far as how this might apply to your situation, deadcatbounce, it seems like it might be a good time to ask questions about contingency plans to support productive programs, while the early retirement package is being developed.  You may be able to ensure people drafting the plan are thinking about how your university will come through this.  But it probably won't  help much in the short term, as we needed to rely on adjuncts while TT hiring was happening, and it sounds like you'll have trouble doing that. 

Regarding short-term fixes, we moved people off of specialized courses to core/required courses, and reduced the frequency of offering for core courses.  Not so great for the students who also need a certain number of electives to graduate, but they were able to progress in their degrees.  We also offered a minimum of grad courses and came up with some new ways for grad students to earn credit that involve less classroom time.   But you'll be losing more people than we did.

Good luck with it.

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deadcatbounce
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« Reply #3 on: March 20, 2012, 10:27:24 AM »

Thanks for the comments.

I have done as Brixton suggests. The Dean herself feels out of the loop, and apparently has not been given the full details. I have emailed the Provost, with my concerns and heard nothing back (not surprising). I will be at a meeting with both later today, and this is clearly going to come up, so I hope to learn more.

The university's general thrust right now is to greatly grow research funding, so this is at cross purposes with that. I was told yesterday to think of this like an NFL team clearing salary cap space in a rebuilding year. I don't know if that means we'll be hiring new full profs as free agents, or rebuilding through the draft (assistant profs).

I have now had the opportunity to speak with all but one or two of the people who would be most likely to be offered packages. It has been disheartening. Two people - frankly, our best two - who I had mentally placed in the "never going to leave" category have indicated that they may go. Both would be likely to be hired elsewhere, so the idea of collecting their pension and another paycheck is really appealing to them. It is now looking like we might lose three or four that we could "afford" to lose, and four or five that we could not.

As I said, more meetings today and in the next few days and we will try to get concrete answers about the offer and plans. It seems like it will be a bumpy ride
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brixton
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« Reply #4 on: March 20, 2012, 10:37:00 AM »

Anyway, our situation was just the opposite of what brixton is imagining, as those of us left are expected to still keep the numbers up, hires aren't automatic, etc. ...


We had the same problem, but this is where it helps to play hardball if you can.  I constantly say when we get cut that we will not do more-with-less.  We're going to do less-with-less.  That means we'll cover core, departmental courses and opt out of the gen eds.  (At some schools this is harder to do, but I try to seem to be an advocate for staff in these times, just because the highers up rarely factor in all of the costs in these types of situation!)

Good luck, indeed~
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biologist_
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« Reply #5 on: April 04, 2012, 4:19:41 PM »

Can you entice any of your retirees with an adjunct paycheck while they collect their pensions?  That might help with short-term teaching needs. 

Of course, the rules may not allow it and the retirees may not be interested, but it could be worth a try.
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deadcatbounce
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« Reply #6 on: April 07, 2012, 12:27:45 PM »

Biologist: yes, we can do that. In fact, as we have a seniority system for the hiring of adjuncts, retired professors almost always can continue to teach classes should they want to. That said, all of our recent retirees who have left saying they will probably teach an occasional class haven't actually done it once they've had a year off to think about it.

As it turns out, the offer that has been made to eligible faculty members is widely seen as a flop, with some senior faculty feeling insulted by it. It looks like it will only be accepted by people who were already planning to retire, so the crisis seems averted for now.
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larryc
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« Reply #7 on: April 07, 2012, 1:04:02 PM »

It is now looking like we might lose three or four that we could "afford" to lose, and four or five that we could not.

Wow! Out of how many people?

It sounds like the early retirement train is leaving the station and you need to plan for your worst-case scenario. With that many retirements, you should be able to make the case for at least a few replacements. Think about your greatest teaching needs and make prioritized lists of courses that must be taught to serve the students (this is the language most likely to attract administrative notice--and work words like "retention" in there). Then use that list to draw up another list of faculty lines you absolutely need--one Underwater Basketweaver to teach UNBW 411, 510 and 699 plus X surveys on the following two year rotation, a Theoretical Philatelist to teach such-and-such, etc.

Do you have any evidence that you can show the admin that certain specialties absolutely cannot be adjuncted out? Have you advertised in the past and failed? Could you put out an advertisement that you are collecting resumes for anticipated part-time openings?

Some other unconventional ideas for offering required upper-level and graduate courses include hiring online adjuncts (whom you could recruit nation wide) (if you need a historian PM me!), setting up a summer program where you hire a summer adjunct to teach two courses and offer that person a good stipend and housing, and establishing a reciprocal relationship with another university in the region.

It seems like it will be a bumpy ride.

Yep. Good luck.
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