Elimination of mandatory retirement leaves young professors worried about their future

Baby boomers now have the option of teaching after reaching age 65

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New legislation will allow baby boomer professors to keep their jobs after they reach retirement age. (Photo: Phoebe Powell)

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When Ashley Carver accepted a position as a part-time professor at Saint Mary’s University three years ago, he thought he had entered the profession at the perfect time. School administrators told him a wave of baby-boomer professors would be retiring within five years and younger professors would have the opportunity to fill the openings.

But new legislation introduced by the Nova Scotia government will allow baby boomers to work past retirement age. This has Carver worried full-time opportunities will vanish.

Carver is 34 years old and currently teaches two courses in criminology and sociology per semester. He says he is eager to increase his course load, but worries that won’t be possible any time soon.

“When I arrived at Saint Mary’s for my interview, I told them I wanted to get my foot in the door and get into a tenure-track position. They showed me a considerable list of professors slated to retire. Now, that list has basically evaporated and those positions just aren’t there anymore,” Carver says.

Baby boomers choosing to keep jobs

Beginning in July 2009 the provincial government will do away with mandatory retirement in post-secondary institutions. The new legislation is being introduced in part to offset a shortage of professors that the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada predicted would occur as baby boomers reach retirement age.  

The association estimated that without the elimination of mandatory retirement, universities would need to fill 1,809 full-time positions within the Maritimes by 2012. Many young, part-time faculty members believed this would be their chance to snap up stable, full-time positions.

But many baby boomer professors have indicated they now wish to keep their jobs when the new legislation comes into effect.  

Colin Dodds, president of Saint Mary’s, says the current economic situation is contributing to older professors’ decision to stay on after they reach 65. Saint Mary’s offers its staff defined contribution pension plans, which are affected by economic instability.  

Under the plan, pension contributions made by the employer are pre-determined, but the employee’s benefits are not. Benefits depend on factors such as the performance of the investment funds.

“Professors are concerned with the current market turmoil, because it means their pension plans are suffering. As a result, many of our faculty who are reaching retirement age are wanting to stay on and teach longer,” says Dodds.

Impact on universities

Peter Halpin, executive director of the Association of Atlantic Universities, says the elimination of mandatory retirement at universities will result in additional operating costs for schools.

“Most of the faculty who are at that age are at the very top of their rank. They’re full professors with tenure who are earning the biggest salaries. These older professors are also more likely to rely on university health plans. It’s projected that because of this, the cost to the universities will be significant,” Halpin says.

He says bringing in new, younger professors would lower operating costs at universities, because new faculty would begin working at lower salary levels.

There is also concern that with a lack of new professors filling teaching positions, there will be less development and renewal of university curriculums.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” Halpin says. “On the one hand, great value is placed on the wisdom of older faculty members, because experience is a great thing. At the same time though, a university wants to be continually refreshing its faculty so that younger professors with new ideas and approaches have a chance to teach the students.”

Carver agrees that younger professors could help renew programs that have been in place for years, and could offer expertise in new areas.

“I think with the younger faculty you always get people who are a little more eager to explore really challenging or difficult areas, “ says Carver.

“My area of expertise is terrorism, for example, and there’s not a lot of the old school criminologists who have done research on terrorism or political violence, so I think with young blood, you get a willingness to explore areas that haven’t been looked at before in the university.”

But university administrators believe that even with the elimination of mandatory retirement, baby boomer professors will still leave the profession within a few years, and positions will be made available to young professors.

“When we compare our situation with the end of mandatory retirement to what has been the case in Ontario, for example, we believe that professors will only hang on for a couple years past 65,” says Dodds.

“In other provinces without a set age of retirement, professors have tended to teach only a few extra years.  So young professors will still be getting a chance to fill full-time positions in the next couple years.”

 

 

 

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