On "Forging Ahead"
To the Editor:
As one who retired in January 2018, I appreciated the May issue’s focus on retired and soon-to-be-retired faculty, especially the thoughts of James Grossman, David MacLaren McDonald, and Allison Blakely. I wondered whether any thought had been given to scholars of early history, given the wide use of the word emeritus/a in the essays, for the word in Latin can mean “unfit for service, worn out”—precisely the opposite of the views expressed by many of your writers. In particular, Dr. Blakely’s insistence that he remains full of energy is a wonderful rejoinder to those who see retired colleagues as useless and expendable. Three points seemed to be missing from the essays:
Although Professor McDonald mentions a colleague whose decision to retire was partly motivated by the desire to make way for someone new, this is not always successful. I suspect that more than a handful of us made our decision with this goal in mind, only to find that the university administration used the opportunity to move money elsewhere. As a medievalist, I have seen many of my more senior colleagues elsewhere retire, only to find that the dean or their fellow historians decided that medieval history no longer was valued.
The panelists emphasize that they are still actively engaged in scholarship, and that unlike our STEM colleagues who lose a vital laboratory, humanists can continue to work. But that does not mean that retired humanities faculty do not need resources or provide benefits to their former institutions, resources that are not always available. Retired faculty certainly understand that university space is precious, but providing some for active retired faculty can pay dividends to both retirees and the university.
I saw nothing in any of the essays about the economic plight of faculty (and staff) in retirement. Most devoted decades of service to the institution, frequently at compressed or inverted salaries, but were promised compensatory benefits to be received in retirement. It is both demoralizing and insulting to find that new generations of university administrators look on retirees as irrelevant or, worse, a drag on their economic bottom lines. The primary target heretofore has been health insurance, in which universities across the country have emulated the worst examples in corporate culture to gut policies for retirees precisely when they need them most. In my experience, more than one administrative vice president has announced that retiree benefits will be “scrutinized for ‘potential rebalancing.’”
Retirement can and should be a productive and rewarding final chapter in the lives of scholars. Why must American culture and the universities within it edit the text so radically that the conclusion diminishes the entire work?
University of Oklahoma (emeritus)
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