I most recently found myself engaged in an interesting conversation with a colleague and friend who teaches at a New England boarding school. The topic that emerged is one that I never considered: What happens to the faculty member once he/she retires? Sure, I have some time, but the extent of a faculty relationship to his or her campus once retired is an intriguing one. I realize that in most areas of employment, the worker moves on; however, I hope the climate of education and academic work never draws the same comparison; folks teach because it is not the real world, nor should it be. The real world sucks!
Though I do not have the miles under me when it comes to teaching and being a faculty member, I have witnessed over the years how some schools treat highly devoted faculty members once they decide to retire, or are forced to retire. My New England friend stated that a measure of treatment toward the retired faculty can be found on a campus at any given moment. Case in point: she mentioned to me that she desires boarding life at her school because she will be assured a place on campus once she retires; she will have access to its library, archives, athletic facilities, an office to work, and an act of involvement with decision making and mentoring new teachers.
However, it is this point that caught my attention: if your school cannot hold on to faculty members or if there is no desire for them to stay, then by time a faculty member approaches retirement, one might not know any of the surrounding faces (his or her colleagues). She went on to state that a measure of the retired faculty and its relationship with the campus can be seen in age; how often do you see older retired faculty members on campus and participating in campus life? What role does a school hold for those who are no longer actively employed, but who seek to contribute to the growth and tradition of the school?
I must confess that I have never considered any of this. I believe the topic of the “retired faculty” is one that all schools need to visit. At one of my previous schools, I watched them destroy its relationship with one of the most respected and legendary faculty members there. Its focus was on the now. There was no “sense” of tradition or legacy for the position of the “faculty member.” Though I promised I would not mention my New England friend or her school by name, she told me that her campus at one point was very cold; it operated too much like a Fortune 500 company instead of a place seeking to expand its intellectual and cultural vitality. It took their faculty senate to showcase why her campus needed to change. In the end, there has been a greater shift toward the position of being a “faculty member” rather than a mere skeleton. Thus, making retirement worth seeking.