Study: Older professors bad for students
Up until 1994, professors were, by law, required to retire at the age of 70.
Laurie Fendrich, a former Hofstra University professor, retired from her job at 66. In November, she wrote an editorial for The Chronicle of Higher Education called "The Forever Professors" with a subhead that read, "Academics who don't retire are greedy, selfish and bad for students."
Fendrich argues that students would be better off being taught by younger professors who are current in their fields. UCF is a relatively young university, but this is a growing concern as its staff ages.
There are currently 150 members, or six percent, of UCF's faculty who are 70 years old or older; but 481 members of its faculty, or 20 percent, are between the age of 60 and 69, according to UCF News and Information.
David Nickerson, chair of statistics, mentioned Florida's Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP) as a way the state tries to incite retirement for older professors.
"It's available to faculty in the … Florida Retirement System; that's the pension plan, and I think you're eligible for it either at 62 years [old] or at 30 years of service," Nickerson said. "The way it works is you retire officially, but you can continue to work for another five years. During that time, you earn your normal salary, but whatever retirement benefit you're supposed to get gets set aside for you in an escrow account; and then at the end of your five years, you get that money as a lump sum retirement benefit … but then you have to walk away from the job."
Nickerson is 56 years old and only six years away from being eligible for DROP. He said the program is something he'll consider as he can see why the state would offer it.
"You might get some faculty who may be beyond their productive years, but are still hanging on; and they tend to be more expensive than junior faculty, and so the state saw this as an opportunity possibly to give them an incentive to retire sooner than they might have otherwise," he said.
In her editorial, Fendrich asserts that older professors usually demand higher salaries, which affects how much of the university's budget can be divided among junior faculty. Fendrich found this caused a rise in adjunct professors, who are generally paid a low salary on a per-class basis.
"Nobody could support themselves on adjuncting. For me, it's definitely not about the money," said Megan Pabian, an adjunct professor teaching writing for public relations.
Pabian, 31, who is also a full-time employee at UCF, sees adjuncting as more as a service to the university. She attended an adjunct orientation, as well as a certification course, to teach a mixed mode class, which Pabian said was quite extensive.
"I think it's important to have a good mix of both adjuncts and your seasoned or tenured professors in every department because what that allows for is a mix of experiences and education," Pabian said.
She says each has something to offer students. Older professors bring research, long-term experience and an ability to look back upon their profession, see its evolution and speak to its progress. Adjuncts, Pabian said, are still living in their field and can thus bring day-to-day practice and help give students a good snapshot of what the working environment is like.
Ida Cook, an associate professor of sociology, is uncertain of the argument for adjuncts.
"There are some instructors or adjuncts who have been hired who work in the industry and the general perception is … they're doing the job and they're going to give you the real-world perspective, but sometimes they really don't have a clue on how to teach," Cook said.
Cook, 72, sees no reason to retire. She says that younger faculty is actually being hired at more competitive salaries and this is causing salary compression.
"It's a stereotypical response that basically says age is the indicator that you are no longer competent," she said of the former law. "You can have very capable, vibrant, thoughtful faculty members who are closer to 80, [and] you can have some who maybe, when they get to be 60, shouldn't be in the classroom because they are losing that ability."
Cook believes it shouldn't just be older faculty who are under scrutiny, but all of UCF. All teachers have the obligation to consider whether they are still benefiting students.
Alex Wexelman is a Senior Staff Writer for the Central Florida Future. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.