• August 13th, 2020

Universities must offer non-fixed contracts to retired professors

Retiring ages for professors from active teaching and research differ from university to university across the world. For some universities the mandatory retirement age is fixed at 60 years, for others at 65 or 70 years. It is normal practice in some universities that after any of the mandatory retirement age limits, universities professors are given one-year contracts which are renewable each year. It is also true that in some universities professors who reach any of the fixed years of retirement have to leave the institutions whether they like it or not. In some cases, this kind of departure of professors from universities is akin to dismissal as these professors show unwillingness to vacate their positions, especially when they are in good health and show that all their mental faculties are sharp. In these cases, universities which have stringent measures in place for the retirement of professors appear to be unfeeling and cruel in the eyes of the retirees, students and other academics who would have been hitherto enjoying working with the departing professors. In these cases, it seems universities do not consider the immense contributions of these professors in areas of teaching, research and community service over the years, especially in their heyday. 

Some literature says that universities celebrate when they hire these professors in their most productive ages after having successfully offered them lucrative packages to win them from competing prospective employers. In most cases there is cut-throat competition among higher education institutions when they are recruiting the services of world-class university professors. It then boggles the mind that when they are in their advanced ages, these professors are treated like ‘old dogs’ which have seen their days despite the fact that they will still be active and  able to execute their duties. 

Literature shows that most of the professors forced to retire from active teaching and research become miserable and dejected, especially without an income. This is more so when they are the breadwinners in their families. To validate this point, I refer to Deborah Fitzgerald whose study among old professors found that “money is the reason why many faculty members keep working. It is hard to accept a big pay cut when they are still the sole or primary breadwinner.” 

The forced exit from their positions affects professors emotionally and psychologically. Over the years they have been attached to their offices, corridors, colleagues, students and even their parking lots.  That mundane life of waking up in the morning and going to the office performs a therapeutic function in human beings. Now all of a sudden, the professors are forced to break these attachments, relationships and associations and stay at home after retirement age. They no longer engage in the rigours of their ‘thinking’ profession where they have to come up with solutions. This is usually after a lot of cogent reasoning and arguments with fellow professors. Studies have proven that when professors’ minds become dormant and inactive, this often results in desolation and anguish. Some scholars have suggested that these ‘thinking’ professionals must be kept thinking up to their last days on earth. 

As I see it, professors who have reached mandatory retirement age must be allowed to continue working as long as they are in good health. These professors are fountains of knowledge; their knowledge should not be put to  through the strict enforcement of retiring age. Remember that these professors bring reputation and gravitas to universities; their research outputs are also needed for university ranking purposes. In universities where these professors are allowed to stay beyond retirement age, they are given more supervisory work at postgraduate studies level. They mentor junior academics and supervise master’s and doctoral students. In addition, professors take their postgraduate students to international conferences and symposiums for presentation of research papers. By so doing, the professors will be offering some kind of apprenticeship to their graduate students, some who will take over as academics when thy eventually leave the university. Universities must therefore benefit from retired professors’ services as long as the professors can perform their duties judiciously.

There is a school of thought that argues that retired professors must give way to young academics with fresh ideas. While this can be justified to a great extent, the new academics need to be coached and guided by the professors in their golden years. In addition, there is always room for both new academics and retired professors at universities taking into account the huge enrolments universities have from year to year. In some countries, the massification of higher education has opened doors to the new universities, most privately owned. My argument is that universities can engage both new lecturers and retired professors, making them coexist harmoniously. 

While retirement may give a new lease of life to other professionals, my observation in academia is that professors are more comfortable in extending their services in education institutions beyond retirement age. It is therefore advisable to let professors continue with their academic work until they feel that they now want to rest. Professors in their golden years should be regarded as assets and not liabilities to universities. Universities must treat retired professors with the respect that they earnestly deserve.

Staff Reporter
2020-04-30 10:15:44 | 3 months ago

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