Put retired profs to work

Some time ago, in a study analyzing the central values undergirding North American life, the late Robert Bellah and his colleagues argued that rampant individualism had become cancerous.  It cuts us off from responsibility for the common good and from deeper sources of meaning in our lives of work.

According to the authors, universities have made their own depressing contribution by fostering a “culture of separation” wherein a university education has become an instrument of individual careerism, providing neither the personal meaning nor the civic culture required to sustain a free and democratic society.

In contrast to this gloomy analysis stands a group of distinguished university faculty members who are eager to continue their commitment to students and provide them with both the meaning and the civility to stabilize society.  This group of teachers who would try to make the difference is professors emeritae.

Though retirement for some of us remains a contentious issue, university professors often retire at 65.  Some retire earlier because they have plans and a solid pension; some simply give up because they are frustrated or burned out from constant jousting with the academic bureaucracy.

And those who do retire do not spend their retirement hunting, fishing or living the life of a couch potato.  Most spend their retirements reading, writing, consulting or teaching part-time.

One of the rather dismaying conclusions of the survey is that academic retirees have little or no significant continuing involvement on the campuses where they have spent most of their professional lives.  And where there is involvement, it is minimal.  They retain some office space, they can purchase a parking permit, some get passes to varsity football games,, a library card and a group mailbox.

Generally however, students have little or no familiarity with these ?oldsters? who clutter the corridors of the buildings or occupy the carrels in the library.

This does not mean that as a group, retired professors are unhappy.  Survey data suggest that the majority of retired professors are satisfied with their health, income and retired status.  The one complaint is feeling alienated from the university.

On some campuses there are loosely organized groups of retired faculty meeting for pot-luck suppers, picnics, informal lectures and other social activities. But for some such activities are not enough.

What has been suggested and found successful are “emeritae colleges”, official entities of the university which encourage retirees to continue their service to the institution and community; to keep their intellectual abilities and their scholarship sharp and useful.

Emeritae in formal organizations assist in developing course content and special projects full-time faculty members may not have time to pursue.  They can help university administrators in fund-raising, alumni activities and community relations.  They can act as bridges between students and teachers, faculty members and administrative officials and the university and the community.

The emeritae faculty have qualities which give them distinct advantages: they are not seeking promotion; they are not applying for tenure; they owe no loyalties to deans, chairs, vice chairs, etc.; they are politically astute and can be open, honest, and helpful in their suggestions.

On some campuses, emeritae colleges have their own budget, fiscal officers and even secretarial assistance.  Its activities include a monthly slide show and travelogue at the local library presented by a retired faculty member; an “alumeritus week” to draw alumni and their families back to campus for recreational/educational programs patterned on the Elderhostel plan; a tutorial and mentor ship service for students; a series of pre-retirement seminars for university staff and faculty; and staffing continuing education courses.

Provided they have few financial worries and very good health, the greatest needs of retired people are recognition and opportunity to exercise their skills and intellect, and to maintain social commitments.  With the establishment of an Ontario Provincial Universities Emeritae College, it would be possible to provide retired faculty members a base for continuing individual creativity and offer the universities and society in general, the talents, skills and experiences of a still-vigorous generation of teachers.

What contributions such a group would make!

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