2015-05 From the President: On Retirement

May 2015 On Retirement

Recently representatives of the American Council on Education (ACE) visited the University of Minnesota to conduct focus groups regarding how our University prepares us for the transition into retirement. These conversations with several U.S. universities are part of the research that ACE is conducting in preparation of a second volume on faculty retirement. The first volume is titled Faculty Retirement: Best Practices for Navigating the Transition. Funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, both volumes will have covered both the transition to and the current status of faculty retirement in higher education. Although concentrating on faculty retirement, the studies have implications for staff at the institutions as well. 

The first book detailed policies and practices in 15 institutions from small private colleges, such as Carleton and Mount Holyoke, to large public universities such as George Mason, San Jose State, UC Davis, U of Washington, and Georgia Tech. Large private universities included Princeton, Xavier, and the University of Southern California (USC).

One of the most comprehensive pre- and post-retirement programs at large doctoral institutions is the one at USC. Titled "USC Legacy Programs," they enhance faculty transitions to and through retirement years, helping faculty "create their academic heritage, that is, the tangibles or intangibles transmitted to their academic heirs." As instruments to achieve this goal, USC operates the Emeriti Center, Emeriti Center College, and the USC living History Project. Operating as an institution-wide service, the legacy program succeeds, according to the report, only because it is built on a firm foundation of retirement support. This support includes financial contributions to retirement accounts; transition-to-retirement seminars explaining a wide range of retirement options, financial and programmatic; phased retirement; and a policy encouraging retired faculty to return for limited teaching or research with compensation. 

The 2012 ACE nationwide survey of faculty members showed that USC had the highest satisfaction scores compared to all other respondents in such categories as legacy programs, culminating projects, retirement transition counseling, ability to phase to retirement, and plans for staying connected with departments and parts of the academic community after retirement. 

The new study will concentrate on what institutions can do to support faculty members in accomplishing their goals and alleviating their fears as they transition into retirement and remain active on campus. 

Several UMRA members participated in the ACE focus groups conducted on the Twin Cities campus. In the discussions we attended, considerable attention was given to the separate role of UMRA as well as the wide disparity of departmental and collegiate approaches to preparations for retirement and treatment of retirees. This disparity reflects the fact that the University of Minnesota is a decentralized institution with wide-ranging approaches to departmental and collegiate management of resources. Some departments and colleges are effective in establishing and carrying out good practices in managing faculty and staff resources, including retirement planning and post-retirement involvement of retirees. Some are not. 

While Minnesota offers some of the institutional support that distinguishes USC in its legacy building—such as good retirement funding, phased retirement programs, and pre-retirement seminars—overall programmatic support is spotty. It is UMRA that has initiated such options as professional development grants to retirees (funded by the VP for Research); the Journal of Opinions, Ideas and Essays, (in collaboration with University Libraries); and speakers and workshops on topics of interest to retirees.

The College of Continuing Education (CCE) supports the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, which provides teaching opportunities for retired faculty and staff. CCE also has a relatively new program, "Encore Transitions," which is aimed at a wide audience of people, not just University retirees, who are planning and living in post-retirement. Many other CCE programs have a wide range of teaching faculty and staff, including community persons and retirees.

These efforts, while extensive and successful, do not, as is the case with USC, represent an institution-wide strategy of transition to retirement planning or of thoughtful deployment of the many retired faculty and staff.

UMRA leadership is now pursuing closer connections with the Provost's office and the Office of Human Relations in order to help define and plan such a strategy.

— Hal Miller, UMRA President miller@umn.edu