We offered Late Career Symposium participants the opportunity to ask questions of our presenters, to be answered after the symposium. Below are the questions asked, answered by Fernando Torres-Gil.

1.  What are your views on mandatory retirement for faculty/academics?

I have come full circle on the issues of who should be exempt from mandatory retirement.  I first dealt with this issue in the mid-l980’s when I was Staff Director for the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on Aging (under the leadership of Congressman Edward R. Roybal).  At that time, the issue of mandatory retirement was high on the policy agenda and there was much goodwill toward allowing individuals to work later in their life span–part of this was under the rubric of moving toward ending penalties for those working and receiving Social Security benefits–all under the assumption that with greater longevity and improved health; individuals should be allowed to work added years.

Thus, there was bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress and with then-President Ronald Reagan toward eliminating mandatory retirement in most sectors–the big question: should there be exemptions based on  occupational peculiarities.  It was fairly clear that public safety workers (e.g. fire, police) and airline pilots should be exempt; that is, must  to retire at a mandatory age. But the big question: what about academics/faculty members.  A big debate ensued but , teachers and faculty types made a compelling case that they could be intellectually productive well into the latter stages of longevity and even in the age range of the 80’s and 90’s!  Thus, at that time, I felt as did many others, that faculty should not be mandatorily retired.

NOW–TODAY: universities and colleges ,as we know, are under immense budgetary pressures (as Carole Goldberg explained so well) and that with many faculty choosing to work into the latter years and with fewer slots available for tenure track positions, we now have a serious dilemma: a growing group of diverse and younger doctoral students endeavoring to move into the academy and obtain a coveted tenure-track position.  BUT those of us with the privilege and luxury and tenure (and in most cases, well paid jobs with excellent compensation and retirement plans) are less willing to retire, especially those with defined-contribution plans (and as we learned at the event, social-psychological issues), and we now have to ask:

Should we  revisit mandatory retirement and obtain a “quid-pro-quo” whereby, faculty are given employment security for up to X years but then must step down and make their FTE available for the next generation of junior faculty?  The answer is not a good one and there are negatives to each response but I now feel that we should consider requiring a cap on the number of years those of us with tenure can hold.   The  new normal is that colleges and universities will always  have constrained budgets and limited tenure-track positions. And we know that a largely white male faculty group today must make way for a soon-to-be majority-minority society of younger, diverse assistant professors.

And a larger political issue: For the the public at large, their concern goes beyond mandatory retirement–the move is toward eliminating tenure all-together and, as we see in many universities, moving toward having faculty members cover a portion of their salary through self-generated funds (e.g. medical and health science faculty).

All this is a set of bad dilemmas, but personally, my primary concern is that we are training a new generation of women, minorities, ethnic and racial talented young persons and the competition for our FTE slots is fierce thus I have come full circle and I would suggest we be given a ceiling of age 70 and at that time, step down and explore a new arrangement with our institutions.  This will enable us to recruit more faculty for tenure-track slots and give hope to the new diverse populations that they too can enjoy an academic career with the advantages we have been given.

And for those who must retire by age 70? Well, this is an opportunity to explore new paradigms and visions for benefiting from an increasingly large group of us in our 70’s, 80’s and beyond who still want to make contributions to knowledge, academic and young people; therein lies a next big project.

2. What do you mean by “scholar/policy entrepreneur”?

I use the John Kingdon model of “policy analysis” and the role of experts skilled in particular topical areas (e.g. the politics of aging, disability, long-term care) who can navigate the policy arena (e.g. the Congress, Executive Branch, State government) as well as having the political astuteness to deal with politicians and interest groups AND have a proven and credible background as researchers and scholars. Thus my career has been “in-n-out” of government, academic, political appointments and civic commissions–all toward influencing how public policy addresses the needs of vulnerable populations and while also pursuing knowledge and bringing that experience to the benefit of students. Thus, I consider myself a policy entrepreneur, scholar and public servant.

“How can faculty scale back research to devote to what seems like more pressing contributions without being perceived as “deadwood” at a tier-one research university?”

Part of the answer to this questions lies with chairs, deans and the tenure and merit review systems of these universities. At UCLA, I have moved up the ranks but firstly, focusing on research, scholarship and obtaining grants and proving that I can do first-rate research and good teaching. But as I moved toward associate and full professor ranks, I always made it my mission to always explain and demonstrate to my chair, deans and fellow faculty colleagues that all that I was doing, was toward bringing value-added to my institution.  Thus, this required: a) ensuring that my reviews and personal statements clearly connected my public service and policy advocacy with knowledge building and teaching and b) as I moved into the distinguished level and focused more on national and international visibility and professional activities, always providing my institution with examples of how I was bringing “prestige and fame” to UCLA.

So, I believe one can scale back the hard-core internal research and scholarly productivity as you move up the ranks BUT one must always be mindful that whatever else we do later in our career, must ensue to the benefit of our institutions.  At UCLA we are also moving toward a two-track merit review: one for faculty focused on scholarship and one for faculty that are focused more on teaching (especially for those that will remain Associate Professors).

All this will require a reconceptualization by university tenure and merit review committees toward changing roles in the life cycle; especially for a faculty that will live longer and stay longer in their faculty positions.