Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

Retirement Time for PA Academics: The United States vs. Egypt

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Laila El Baradei
July 1, 2022

I am a university professor who turned sixty this year. I received a University Service Award and a School Practice Award and I am still as active as ever, or trying to be. The question is: when is a good time to retire as an academic? This is a sensitive topic. The general belief is that when faculty age, it is a sign that they are accumulating experience and knowledge. Therefore, contrary to regular staff jobs in most organizations, including those on the administrative staff at universities, there is no fixed retirement age. Faculty are allowed to go on teaching so long as they are capable of doing so. All this is well and good, however, there are many differences regarding arrangements when dealing with aging faculty at different universities and there are also individual differences between faculty work capabilities that correlate with older age.

In most U.S. universities, there is no retirement age. Aging faculty are treated similarly to their younger colleagues and also given the same workload. There are no restrictions on faculty above the age of 60 taking on administrative responsibilities. They may be hired as chairs, deans, provosts or presidents at any age, without discrimination. Again, the assumption is that you judge faculty based on their achievements and performance and that age not be included in the equation.

In Egyptian public universities, the story is a little bit different. Faculty over 60 are not allowed to take on any administrative roles. The rationale here is that they need to step away and make room for their younger colleagues. Faculty over 60 stay on to teach, do research and supervise theses and dissertations. They are referred to as “Dedicated Professors”, the assumption behind this term being that they will be more dedicated to their core responsibilities related to teaching and research than before. Latest legal modifications allow faculty over 60 to start receiving a pension in addition to financial compensation for the work performed at their university. When faculty reach the age of 70, they are given the title of “Non-dedicated Professor”, probably meaning that they will be given a lighter work load at their discretion. They are not forced to teach courses if they are not interested. 

Which system is better? At Egyptian public universities there is more empathy with the aging faculty, which is good. However, pay in public universities in Egypt in general is not competitive at all. Qualified faculty thus practice ‘moon lighting’ by teaching part time at other private universities, and/or seeking paid, short-term consulting jobs on the side. If all else fails, they may choose to resign.

At U.S. universities, yes, the aging faculty are allowed to continue, but they are also the ones first targeted with any downsizing initiatives. You may have watched the Netflix series “The Chair”. The older faculty are given incentives to leave, like additional benefits that are only applicable for the current year’s retirees, to incentivize retirement sooner rather than later. Additional burdens are placed on post tenure, including publishing requirements. Being tenured currently does not make you as secure as you might think. For example, during COVID-19 many tenured-faculty were forced to accept reduced pay without question, for varying periods of time.

What does science say about your capabilities after 60? We often read short articles on social media and in the daily newspapers, for those who still purchase paper copies, about how 80 is the new 60, that life expectancies are rising and that people are getting to live longer and more productive lives.

The literature on aging and faculty performance is inconclusive. Similarly, anecdotal evidence based on my life time experience in academia points to varying opinions about how aging faculty fare at their workplace. Some aging faculty who continue to excel in teaching, research and service, can be a resource to all, and represent necessary institutional memories that exist at the core of their organizations. On the other hand, others can get stuck in their old ways, finding it difficult to adapt to new technology, new teaching methods and new research tools. We all know of professors who continue mentioning illustrative examples in their classes from two or three decades ago. These examples worked well earlier and were known to have caused many an ‘aha’ moment. However, when communicating with the new generation, the examples and the incidents mentioned fail to impress.

How can we take better care of our aging faculty? I think the key word is flexibility. More flexible work systems should be allowed. The more you age, definitely the more knowledgeable you become, and the more experienced. However, aging tends to take a toll on people. We are human. Universities should not expect a sixty-year-old to be as active and as energetic as a thirty year old. Faculty should be given a choice regarding the amount and type of work they want to deliver, so that quality is maintained at all times for the benefit of the educational institution, and for the benefit of creating and disseminating knowledge in the best way possible. 

Author: Laila El Baradei, Ph.D. is a Professor of Public Administration at The American University in Cairo, Egypt. She is the director of the MPA Program and is a regular contributor to PA Times Online. El Baradei directs the Public Policy HUB which trains graduate students on public policy research and advocacy and links them with policymakers. ­­­Email: [email protected] Twitter: @Egyptianwoman

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *