Publication Date

November 1, 2002

Perspectives Section

Letters to the Editor

To the Editor:

Lynn Hunt's proposal to induce “old” professors to retire would harm the profession as a whole and the individuals affected, women especially.

If older professors are pressured to retire regardless of their scholarly productivity and teaching effectiveness, the profession will be deprived of a scholarship that is the result of many years of research and reflection. For a historian, maturity is an asset. A lifetime of research enables historians to make connections and look at the big picture that a historian just starting out might not see.

Many academic women reach their full scholarly stride only after their children are grown, and keep going strong thereafter. Demonstrating that grey hair does not mean a loss of brain power, these women become good role models for students and younger faculty.

Very few academics can afford to retire at age 55. This was true before the collapse of the stockmarket devastated "defined contribution" retirement plans such as TIAA-CREF, and is even more true today. Many retirees on such plans have been forced to return to work because their pensions have shrunk so drastically. Often they have not got jobs commensurate with their abilities and experience. Are we to envisage following an academic career of 20 to 30 years with working at McDonald's or Walmart at the minimum wage? Faced with such a prospect, why would talented young people choose to become historians?

Finally, there is no guarantee that lines vacated by retirees would be filled by junior scholars. In institution after institution, lines in the humanities have been reassigned to "practical" subjects or eliminated entirely, even while administrative positions multiply. To help younger historians get jobs, I propose: (1) That the AHA campaign for historical literacy. Western Civ courses used to be the bread and butter of European historians, but many institutions have eliminated the requirement and younger historians of Europe are paying the price. (2) We should ally with faculty in other disciplines in a campaign against the endless proliferation of administrative positions. Cutting bureaucratic bloat would release funds for new academic positions.

Fordham University

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