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Academic Retirement & The Economy

  1. Oct 11, 2008 #1
    Will the current state of the economy - and here I'm at least partially talking about the 2 trillion dollars of retirement benefits that have been lost - affect academic retirement rates?

    For a decade we've been hearing that the baby boomers were about to retire. I remember hearing that this would accelerate a great deal around 2000-2002 in the universities, and that many physics professors would need replacing. Of course it turned out that these people largely just didn't retire, hanging around for years and years. This was especially aggravating for new graduates because, since the US has been overproducing physicists for forty years, we've been left with a lot more postdocs than there are academic positions for them to move into.

    The question is, will the loss of retirement funding further affect this?

    Of course, many have pensions from universities, so the stock market is immaterial. Others weren't going to retire until forced out anyways. On the other hand, reduced state funding will force some out, but without leaving a slot open for replacement.

    Any informed input would be appreciated.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 12, 2008 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    You're asking us to predict the future. If you planned wisely, it shouldn't make any difference if you retire at the top or the bottom of the market, but you're asking us to figure out how many people didn't, and what they're reaction to this will be. Fortunetelling is probably no less accurate.
     
  4. Oct 12, 2008 #3
    No I'm not. I'm asking people who are either in this position or know people who are to give me an idea of what everyone is thinking, and how the situation is affecting their choices.
     
  5. Oct 13, 2008 #4
    Because of the downturn in the economy, the chancellor of our university recently announced that, as faculty retire, tenure-track positions will be replaced with lecturer positions (lecturers are "cheap" because they can be hired as "part time" and therefore receive no benefits, such as a heath-care plan... and they can be fired at any moments notice). Since I'm presently at the lecturer-level, I take this as a small measure of job-security for the time being (there was in initial announcement by our dean that wanted all lecturers fired for instant cost-saving). We were lucky this term, since our department chair argued against the dean for our positions and had some discretionary department funds. I'm doing my best to secure my position by writing grants, doing outreach for the local schools, etc... and I'm glad the chancellor's statement helps me, for the time being... I just have to hold steady and keep trying to position myself better for the time if/when positions DO become available. However, as a result of the chancellor's statement however, a few faculty might stick around LONGER than planned (encouraged by the department chair) because the lost of a tenure-track line is significant... no one retiring who had any personal investment in a research program with colleagues wants to see that program lose a tenure line. Of course, I think faculty only really retire when health requires it anyways. They don't tend to do the jobs they do because of high pay and the ability to save copious retirement funds. They tend to think the job keeps them young (this is what my husband has already stated he will do... never retire!!).

    Like you, I believe there is NOT a shortage of physicists for the spots available (contrary to graduation data put out by AIP, etc., that point to a decline in physics graduates relative to the number of graduating students overall). I think part of the problem with the system is that MOST undergraduate programs gear their students to graduate school... not towards middle class careers in industry, teaching, etc. (esp. teaching, which while it pays less, is experiencing a shortage, especially with the "physics first" movement). This, in my mind, is a huge failure on the part of the system. The sad thing is that, as a part-time lecturer, I'm paid about what I was paid as a high school teacher... and I would have been paid more if I interned and took an industrial job fresh out of undergrad. It's frustrating.

    If you want thoughts other than just anecdotal, if I were you, I would look at the overall trends about retirement and the tenure-track jobs in publications like the Chronicle of Higher Education and the American Association of University Professors.
     
  6. Oct 13, 2008 #5
    That's something I hadn't thought of. Thanks for your reply physics girl phd.
     
  7. Oct 13, 2008 #6
    I'm not in the academic field at all but I was watching ABC News tonight and there was a story about a university somewhere that was asking all professors eligible for retirement to retire as soon as possible... I think it was this thing about Rhode Island's state budget?
     
  8. Oct 13, 2008 #7

    Moonbear

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    I'm not in physics, but am in a department with several faculty getting very close to retirement. For the most part, I think they've been careful with their retirement funds, so really haven't been hurt too much by this downturn. The ones hurt are those in their 50s who hadn't started to move funds into safer accounts yet. But there's still time for them to make it up.

    I suspect the academics will be hurt a bit less than those in other fields. Here, and at many other institutions, they have phased retirements. Basically, they move faculty reaching retirement age into half-time positions at half salary and draw the rest off retirement benefits. This gives them time to close up their labs, get the last grad student or two out the door, finish writing up any unpublished manuscripts, and get used to the idea of being retired without too much pain. This part-time phased retirement also gives them a slight financial safety net for a couple years.

    As for the impact on hiring new faculty, that has already been a problem for several years with tightening state budgets and dwindling grant funding. I think the sheer necessity of needing to cover teaching of courses that will continue regardless of whether research programs are funded will require hiring new faculty. A lot of those retiring have also been taking on a lot of the teaching burden in departments, with the younger faculty more focused on research, but the courses need to be taught. Though, whether they will be tenure-track positions, I don't know. This seems to be what Physics Girl is experiencing, that they are not tenure-track positions. I just took a job teaching that's also not tenure-track (but still includes promotions, so is meant to be long-term even if it's not quite the security of tenure).
     
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