Chronicle of Higher Education op-ed: When, and Why, I’ll Retire, by Jonathan Zimmerman (University of Pennsylvania):
“So, when are you going to retire?”
I’ll be honest: That’s not a question I ever imagined receiving. But I’m turning 60 this month. And in connection with that inauspicious milestone, at least three people have recently asked me when I’ll hang up my cleats — or, more precisely, my tweeds — and ride into the academic sunset.
The answer might surprise you: When I know I’ll be replaced.
And not with a couple of adjuncts who would teach my courses for a few thousand bucks apiece. No, I’ll retire when my institution pledges to hire a full-time, tenure-track professor in my place.
I’m not in any kind of rush, mind you. I’m a youthful 60, or so I like to think. (Don’t we all?) I still love teaching and writing, and I’ve continued to be productive in both realms. But I’d happily promise to retire by age 70 — that is, within the next decade — if my institution commits to hiring a full-timer in my stead. And if all of us “senior” (cough) professors did the same, we might reverse the greatest moral blot on academe right now: adjunctification. ...
A mass retirement by senior professors wouldn’t derail the adjunctification train; if anything, it would speed the train up.
But suppose, instead, that we actually put our bodies in front of it? If we all said we’d stay put unless we were replaced by full-timers, our institutions would be forced to hire tenure-track professors instead of starving itinerants. I realize that all of this will be a lot easier for fabulously rich private universities — like my own — than it will be for many public institutions, which are struggling with declining enrollments and budgets. But that’s all the more reason to rally faculty members around the retirement issue, at every type of institution. I don’t know if it will work, of course. But I can assure you that nothing will work — or change — unless all of us raise our voices and demand to be replaced. We could leave with our heads held high, knowing that we had done something important for the generations that would succeed us. Our students would get some fresh blood in their classrooms, instead of the decaying oldsters who teach them now. (Look in the mirror, my friend. I just did.) And the new professors would almost certainly be more diverse than the mostly white, mostly male faculty members they replaced. ...
Colleges lately have tried to lure us into retirement by offering paid leave and other goodies. I won’t say no to those, of course, and they might even persuade me to hit the road at 68 or 67. (My wife is pushing for 66.) But unless there’s also a guaranteed job for my successor, I’m not going anywhere. They’ll have to wheel me to class in my semi-senility, like those geriatric geezers on The Chair. ...
And since every movement needs a slogan, here’s mine: If You’ll Hire, I’ll Retire. Say it loud, and say it proud! If enough of us say it, and mean it, we can use our departure to make a real difference. I’m ready to take the deal. Are you?