Point: Implement Mandatory Retirement


(Isabel Frias / The Observer)


(Isabel Frias / The Observer)
(Isabel Frias / The Observer)

In the working world, job security exists as a lofty and tantalizing goal, and for professors that goal is manifested in the concept of “tenure.” Upon reception, the instructor no longer needs to fear his or her own termination except in the face of an egregious offense or the elimination or downsizing of his department. This often means that instructors can sit comfortably in their position for years on end, oftentimes into their 60s or 70s. But is this really a good thing for the students that they are responsible for?

It’s a bit of a touchy subject: After all, there’s always been the perception that an older instructor is an ineffective one, and yet we can’t deny that everyone ages at their own rate. For instance, while one 80-year-old man may require a cane or a walker to move around, another somehow has the stamina to run a marathon, and therefore it isn’t outrageous to imagine that mental capacity also changes depending on the individual. But we can’t ignore the fact that we do have people working in the education system that are far older than they should be. Back in high school, I remember having one particular instructor whose mental state had deteriorated to the point where he would frequently lose tests and papers handed to him by his students, lost his place in his lesson plans and sometimes outright forgot to relay or elaborate on concepts necessary for the course’s examinations. Half the time, however, he simply handed the class over to a student teacher.

But here’s the major problem: In order to keep their job, tenured professors oftentimes need only concern themselves with providing the bare minimum to their students. The professors attempting to get tenure and the student teachers attempting to find work are the most zealous. Competition in our society has always been good, for it is this motivation that pushes competitors to offer the best of the best to the public. Tenured professors simply don’t need to prove themselves, and it requires a level of benevolence for one to go above and beyond the call of duty. 

Now, I’ve been fortunate enough to have been taught by some of these remarkable individuals, but this experience is oftentimes not standard. While we do attempt to reinvigorate the system by introducing student teachers and adjunct professors, it would still take a teacher dedicated to the benefit of his students to adequately guide and scrutinize the guest instructor. A student teacher is just that: a student. And if a professor cannot effectively teach students then the problem will only be replicated in the case of the student teacher. Of course, supporters of tenure often argue that, due to technological developments and the prevalence of information available on the Web, it is easier than ever for a professor to remain knowledgeable in his field but again we face the lack of incentive issue; there is simply no reason for them to do that, and those that do fall behind cannot be fired and are often removed from higher level classes to teach introductory level courses, to the immense detriment of students who face new and intimidating subject matter. 

At this point we arrive at a conclusion that is truly hard to face; we need a mandatory retirement age for instructors. And yes, on paper it looks rather terrible. It is, after all, a form of ageism, and it would certainly result in many professors who are still capable of teaching ending up being forced into retirement along with those that truly need it. 

Mandatory retirement ages are also, for the most part, unlawful; in addition to the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia are just a few countries that have made it illegal to issue notices of mandatory retirement to employees. And yet we do have a few exceptions: Air traffic controllers have a mandatory retirement age of around 56, while pilots must retire by age 65. True, leading a class is not as much of a life or death scenario as directing a plane, but it at least goes to show that we do recognize the importance of being mentally alert. The only question is whether or not the classroom setting should carry as much importance, and given that we are educating the next generations of our nation, it honestly should.

Ideally, the tenure system should be revised, competition should be fostered, and professors should be scrutinized in their later years to determine whether or not they are still fit for the job. Perhaps tenure could be removed around age 65, but the professor himself could remain if the school remains comfortable with him. But as it stands, we have next to no quality control regarding the state of our education system’s tenured professors, and so if we are to keep the system as it is (which we shouldn’t), then we must also introduce a way to ensure that our professors are as sharp as a pilot. A mandatory retirement age would definitely be one way to go.