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Retirement offers emeritus faculty freedom, uncertainty

Benefits for emeritus professors called unclear, lackluster compared to peer institutions

Professor Emeritus of History Gordon Wood P’86 found it strange one day after he had retired that his mailbox was empty when all the other boxes on the wall in his department’s building held a copy of the Brown Alumni Magazine.

When he started teaching at Brown in 1969, the provost of Wood’s alma mater, Tufts University, warned him that “Brown is not very good at treating its retired faculty,” Wood said. But he “was not thinking about retirement back then.”

Wood said he was due to retire from Brown and teach at Northwestern Law School in 2003. But before his retirement, Brown’s administration offered him a contract for five years during which he would teach for only one semester per year. After communicating with administrators, Wood decided to stay at the University and teach undergraduates under the gradual retirement plan.

But policies such as the one that left his mailbox empty of the Brown Alumni Magazine are “penny wise and foolish,” he said.

An emeritus faculty member is a faculty member who retired at the rank of professor or has served at the University for at least 15 years, said Senior Associate Provost Elizabeth Doherty P’16.

To formally bestow an emeritus title, a department must make a recommendation to the Corporation, said Dean of the Faculty Kevin McLaughlin P’12, adding that the recommendations are rarely rejected.

Doherty estimated the University has several hundred emeritus faculty members. But “the population is hard to track because their connections to the University vary a lot,” he added.


Post-retirement life

Since his retirement in 1994, Professor Emeritus of Engineering Maurice Glicksman has spent his time volunteering for various organizations around the country, writing an autobiography and organizing his collection of over 20,000 stamps, which will be donated to Brown’s libraries when he is unable to oversee it anymore.

Glicksman also chaired the committee that organized and celebrated the 150th anniversary of the School of Engineering in 1997, he said. The committee raised more than $7 million, much of which went toward renovating labs and buildings including Barus and Holley. All these activities contribute to what he called a fruitful retirement.

Wood said he published many books during his first years as an professor emeritus, describing the period as “very productive.”

“It’s nice if you stay around,” he said. “Those who stayed in Providence or Rhode Island are very active.”

But retired faculty members who moved to other parts of the country “disappeared,” Wood added.

Emeritus faculty members are entitled to privileges including library access, a University identification card, a parking space and free membership to the Faculty Club and athletic facilities, Doherty said.

Emeritus faculty members are also often included in departmental mailing lists and can serve on the Committee on Faculty Retirement, Doherty added. Though emeritus faculty members are welcome to attend faculty meetings, they cannot vote.

Wood said he feels fortunate to be able to keep his office, where he works and stores his extensive collection of books. But he added that he was not informed about emeritus benefits such as complimentary gym membership.

Doherty said all the privileges are listed on the University human resources website.

But Adjunct Professor Emeritus of Engineering Barrett Hazeltine GP’15 said he “wasn’t at all clear about the benefits.”

He added that the former provost explained the benefits to him verbally when he retired, but “it was a lot of information at a time.”


A teaching rarity 

Hazeltine began teaching at the University in 1959 and retired 38 years later. After his retirement, he continued to teach two undergraduate courses per semester, including the wildly popular ENGN 0090: “Management of Industrial and Nonprofit Organizations.”

Hazeltine said he thought retirement would bring him “more freedom to try different things.” But “out of all the options, staying at Brown seemed to be the most attractive.”

“Teaching at Brown is a lot more fun than a lot of other things I can think about,” Hazeltine said. “Suddenly not having anything to do is not good for you psychologically and therefore physically.”

Both McLaughlin and Doherty said it is uncommon for retired faculty to teach.

“It used to be a practice that is discouraged … because it may be an obstacle to hiring a new, younger faculty (member) in the same area,” McLaughlin said.

“Now departments can take advantage of a retired professor who may have an expertise that they no longer have,” he added. Retired faculty members often “offer courses that may not be offered otherwise.”

Departments also often seek out emeritus faculty members first to temporarily replace other faculty members on leave, Allen said.


‘Graying of the academy’

Last year, Provost Mark Schlissel P’15 asked the Faculty Executive Committee to investigate why some faculty members are reluctant to retire, said James Allen, professor of Egyptology and ancient Western Asian studies and FEC member.

Under President Ronald Reagan, the federal government passed a statute eliminating the mandatory retirement age of 70 in higher education, Doherty said.

“The graying of the academy” is a national problem, she added, referring to the fact that the faculty in many departments tends to remain unchanged over long periods of time.

“In order to remain vibrant, a university has to have a continuous infusion of new talent,” Allen said. There has to be “new space for younger professors — otherwise the university becomes stagnant.”

The ad hoc Committee on Employee Benefits, which formed in response to Schlissel’s request, found that financial and psychological concerns often deter faculty members from pursuing retirement, Allen said.

For some faculty members who have been at the University for decades, the school is like a family to them, he said. “It is not easy to opt out of the family.”

In response to the benefits report, the FEC proposed to clarify the privileges granted to emeritus faculty members, which was discussed at a recent faculty meeting, The Herald reported at the time.


Barren benefits

“Health expenses as one gets older and not supported in a university program can totally bankrupt faculty who were once very highly paid,” wrote Harold Roth P’17, professor of religious studies and director of the Contemplative Studies Initiative, in an email to The Herald.

Roth, who chaired the Committee on Employee Benefits, wrote that prior to the 2012 release of the committee’s report, “faculty who retired were basically shut out of active participation in this community.”

The University does not currently offter post-retirement health benefits. They are “very expensive undertakings because it cannot be just for faculty,” Doherty said.

Two Medicare supplement plans are available so retired staff members can purchase group plans through the University, but the University does not offer subsidies for them, Doherty added.

Though the University’s retirement health benefits are not as competitive as those of peer institutions, the retirement rate is comparable to universities that offer post-retirement health care, Doherty said. This indicates that health benefits do not necessarily incentivize faculty members to retire, she added.

A joint FEC and Committee on Faculty Equity and Diversity committee suggested the University set up a post-retirement medical fund for employees, Allen said.

The administration rejected the proposal, but the committee will make the suggestion again once the University is not operating on a deficit, Allen added, emphasizing that even peers with comparable or smaller endowments — such as Georgetown University and Johns Hopkins University — have better retirement benefits such as health care accounts.

Hazeltine said the system is “adequate, although other Ivy schools do offer health benefits.”

Health benefits are not the only area in which the University may lack focus for retired employees.

The committee’s report suggested that the University build a center for the emeritus faculty, much like Yale’s Koerner Center.

“If we could, we would,” Doherty said of a potential emeritus faculty center, but the University has different priorities. “There is a room in the Faculty Club for emeritus faculty established four years ago, although it doesn’t have offices,” she added.


A previous version of this article misidentified James Allen. He is a professor, not a professor emeritus, of Egyptology and ancient Western Asian studies. The article also incorrectly stated that the Committee on Faculty Equity and Diversity suggested the University set up a post-retirement medical fund for employees. In fact, the recommendation came from a joint FEC-CFED committee. The article also incorrectly stated that the Corporation rejected this proposal. In fact, the administration rejected it. The Herald regrets the errors.


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