Is faculty career flexibility the next disruptive innovation?

6. STEM-specific issues: Joan Ferrini-Mundy, assistant director for education and human resources at the National Science Foundation (NSF), said that in STEM fields particularly, the U.S. needs more diversity in the workforce while also increasing the number of STEM individuals overall–and that learning and career environments within the college or university can achieve these goals. In 2012, the Career-Life Balance Initiative began, a series of policies designed to “clear the obstacles” and create a pathway “leading from graduate education through to full professor.” Implemented to support work-life balance for the principal investigators of NSF awards, these policies aim to help graduate students, post-doctorates, and early-career faculty to sustain their science careers. They offer “preferred start dates for the awardees, no-cost extensions for parental leave, lowered bureaucratic barriers in using the policies, financial resources to principal investigators who need additional technology support in their labs, and supports for dual-career choices and opportunities.”

7. Liberal Arts-specific issues: Beverly Nagel, dean of the college of Carleton College (MN), said that there are roughly three unique considerations that liberal arts institutions should take note of: 1. In rural or less developed areas, dual career couples may be an especially challenging issue, due to limited local job opportunities and the inability of most small institutions to create positions for spouses/partners. 2. At smaller institutions, it’s typical that all faculty serve on one or more college committees, and some of these committees can be very time-consuming. However, efforts to reduce the number of committees can be met with faculty resistance as faculty worry about losing their voice in administrative decisions. 3. There is an expectation that liberal arts faculty are more involved in student life outside of the classroom. Not only do these expectations involve an additional time commitment, but they also occur at times that can create difficulties for families.

8. Transitioning faculty: This past year, Georgetown has focused on creating greater flexibility for faculty to plan for their personal transition to an active retirement, said Robert Groves, provost of Georgetown University. This new option provides time to plan for financial and health-care needs as well as intellectual pursuits. It allows eligible faculty to work up to two years at 50 percent effort, while receiving 75–100 percent of full-time base salary. For the university, it allows for succession planning and balancing of the composition throughout the faculty. The phased retirement plan is designed to be financially sustainable and budget neutral, said Groves.

9. Faculty retirement and options: According to a 2012 ACE survey of faculty, the top three concerns of faculty regarding this transition period before retirement are: 1) lack of transparency of available options, 2) lack of communication from the administration, and 3) psycho-social aspects connected to faculty member’s academic/work identity. The majority of faculty were satisfied when they could continue to use their institutional email and library privileges, but would also prefer to have an office on campus after retirement.

According to Sandra Johnson, associate dean at the Office of the Dean of the Faculty at Princeton University, an additional retirement policy began three years ago and was designed to incentivize tenured faculty, through bonuses, to embrace the age range of 65–70 as a time of transition. The new policy has three characteristics: First, the age of faculty entering into the program must be between 65 and 70, with at least 10 years of service at Princeton in order to qualify for retirement benefits. Second, faculty are paid either a bonus upon retirement that is a multiplier of the faculty member’s salary, or the average salary of all faculty at that rank at that point in time, whichever is greater. Third, after signing a retirement agreement, faculty members may continue to teach half-time for half pay for up to three years—dependent on their age at the time of signing—or they may sign an agreement before the age of 67 and continue to teach full time until age 70, then receive a bonus equal to one year of salary.

10. Engaging retired faculty in collaborations with the community: George Mason University has developed several means to assist its retiring faculty. Through its Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, faculty are offered opportunities to explore intellectual and cultural subjects as well as share their expertise and talents. George Mason also offers a full-day course called “Your Next Chapter: Charting a Course to Retirement” that is administered by the Department of Psychology, and operated with the nonprofit organization Leadership Fairfax and Fairfax County, which provides funding. The course, which runs each semester, offers the ability to “create a retirement plan with choices that may include community involvement, new career directions, leisure enrichment activities, and healthy aging and lifelong learning to energize faculty to face the challenges that come with major life changes,” said Peter Stearns, provost emeritus at George Mason. The University also hosts a seminar series that addresses the preparation of the “whole person” for the various aspects of retirement by “exploring personal resources, attitudes, preferences, motivations, skills, and interests.”

For more information on the executive summary from the conference, as well as further consideration and resources, click here.