Counter Point: Retirement is a Personal Choice


(Isabel Frias / The Observer)

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

Staff Writer
Published: December 10, 2014

When registration rolled around at the beginning of November, many of us were well-prepared, with our schedules decided and written out several weeks ahead of time. When choosing a class, many students consider not only its importance to the core or to their major, but also who the professor is and what he or she is like. Students often search their prospective professors on search engines such as RateMyProfessors, where past students can post their feedback for the professor and the class. The professor can easily make or break the class. The material could be interesting, but if the professor lectures from a slideshow for seventy-five minutes in monotone, the class can quickly become tedious.

Professors are key to inspiring students and urging them to always learn more about their respective subjects, but a popular debate among students and faculty alike is regarding the age at which tenured professors should retire, not only for their sake, but for that of the students. Many argue that older professors are detrimental to the curriculum and students.

Laurie Fendrich, author of “The Forever Professors,” writes in The Chronicle for Higher Education, “The inconvenient truth is that faculty who delay retirement harm students, who in most cases would benefit from being taught by someone younger than 70, even younger than 65.” Fendrich explains, “[t]he salient point is not that younger professors are better pedagogues (sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t), but that they are more likely to be current in their fields and to bring that currency into their teaching.” This can be a very skewed and misleading argument because it implies that older professors cannot keep up with the advancements made in their fields. Yes, perhaps older professors have more responsibilities within their department at work and in their personal lives, but that does not prevent them from being able to understand the mutable material in their field. In this day and age where social media and technology have seemingly taken over, it is unrealistic to assume that professors well over 70 will not be able to stay on top of current trends and developments in their fields. Additionally, older professors have tested several teaching methods for their class and understand what makes students want to learn.

Younger professors can seem “cooler” and more “technologically advanced” than older professors, but that does not mean they know how to teach a class. A professor who fails to actively invoke the students’ participation can singlehandedly cause a student to drop the class and change their career path, as I have witnessed one too many times during freshman and early sophomore year.

 Younger professors, in my experience, are shaky at first, like babies taking their first steps. Older professors are grounded, with a stronger resume and more personal stories about the material. I took a European history class second semester freshman year, and the professor, who happened to be of the older generation, had many wonderful stories to share about the myriad European countries he’s visited. Anecdotes about Eastern European countries after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and those regarding Western Europe as it tried to rebuild itself after World War II, even in his experience during the late ’80s and ’90s, strengthened my understanding of how the European countries were shaped economically, politically and socially after the war.

Another key argument in the age of retirement for tenured professors is what they are costing universities. Older professors expect to be paid higher salaries, as indeed they should be, but at a cost to universities, some argue.  Few policies have actually helped the sky-rocketing prices of education, yet universities, Rebecca Schuman claims, in “Quit Picking on Old Professors,” still manage to earn $300,000 a year to fundraise for unnecessary luxuries, such as new football stadiums and coaches. Higher tuition prices are due to lack of investment from the state, but unfortunately, the higher wages for faculty have been to blame as a way to excuse raising tuition prices, and at the same time save universities money when they limit the retirement age. Universities, as some do, try to bribe older professors into retirement plans. The day a professor retires should solely be based on their judgment, and the university should not be involved in such a personal decision.

With advancements being made continuously in modern medicine, to put a limit on the age of 70 as the period when people begin to sign retirement papers and start looking into Medicare booklets is outdated. The average life expectancy in 2014 for a female is 80 years old, and 77 years old for a male. Older professors bring more valuable knowledge to the classroom, and it takes younger professors a lot of practice and experience to be able to reach the high standards that their predecessors have set before them.