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Early retirement discontinuation leaves some faculty disconcerted

Submitted by KenDrell Collins on October 23, 2013 – 10:03 amNo Comment

An early retirement option that has been offered to UALR faculty for nearly three decades is set be discontinued. Professors have expressed gratitude for the option as well as disappointment at its revocation.

In an email to employees on October 3, UALR Chancellor Joel Anderson notified faculty that in the coming 15 months, the university would be ending its long established early retirement benefit. The option, Anderson said, “tied up salary dollars in the short-run and have postponed hiring of replacements.”

UALR is the only university in the state that has offered the option on a regular basis, Anderson said. However, it is not a perk exclusive to UALR. “It was made possible in the 1980’s by the Arkansas Legislature,” Anderson said.

The plan is available this semester to tenured faculty who are 55 years or older  and will have been at the university for at least 15 years by the date he or she retires. For the two subsequent semesters, the limit for years served will be lowered to 10 or more, but the facuty member’s combined age and service must equal 70.  The same requirements apply to non-tenured faculty, non-classified staff, and classified staff. They will receive 20 percent of their annual salary .

The package is divided into two components: “buy-out” and “phase out.” Those who take the buy-out will receive an entire year’s salary after retiring. The phase-out is more gradual, allowing professors to teach part-time for two years and still receive full-time pay. Those who chose this option must relinquish their tenure benefits.

“Throughout the years, I have felt good about the fact that we provided this benefit to faculty who have given many years of service to this institution,” Anderson said. “The draw back to continuing it is that it is expensive. We end up paying for a year in which they don’t work. The budget is tight enough these days that we need to have those dollars available in the short run.”

Rhetoric and Writing professor, Michael Kleine, said he intended to spend more time teaching at UALR, but the discontinuation of the early retirement has changed his mind.

“I am 65 now. I was planning to teach for four more years until I was 70. But we just learned that the early retirement package would be stripped away within about a year and a half. That’s the one faculty perk that we had and it was just taken away.”

Kleine said that he is now planning to retire at the end of next fall, as it would be his last chance to get the early retirement benefits.  He said that the change has left him and many of his fellow faculty members feeling demoralized and unvalued.

“Quite frankly we have not been rewarded with even a raise, a decent raise, in years,” said Kleine.

His longtime friend and colleague, history professor Thomas Kaiser, seconded Kleine’s sentiments, calling the move “shabby.”

“We had no legal right to it, it wasn’t promised, but it was a long established tradition that I counted on in terms of planning my retirement,” Kaiser said. “This was one benefit, which to some degree compensated for those two things.”

Kleine, who said he loves his vocation, has one regret from his decion to retire  - no longer getting to teach students or be involved in the process of “constructing knowledge.”

Not all faculty members are disconcerted, though. In fact, Charles Anderson, who is also a professor of Rhetoric and Writing said the option is a gift from the university, not an entitlement.

“Nobody signed a contract saying, ‘Oh by the way when you retire we’re going to give you a year’s salary.’ I mean, giving people a year’s salary is terribly generous.”

He plans to retire in the coming years as well, by taking advantage of the option before it disappears. Instead of choosing the buy-out option though, he is opting for the phase-out.

“I’m not quite ready to quit work,” Charles Anderson said. “I’m not quite ready to quit teaching. I still am enjoying it a lot. It’s good for me to be able to keep teaching for a while. I think it will be really good for my department.  For my department to simply lose the experience of their full professors all at once is going to be hard for the department. It’s going to be hard for students.”

He pointed out that he understands the university’s position of wanting to save money by hiring younger faculty, who often receive lower salaries and may even have fresh ideas. However, he acknowledged that the risk in doing so is that those professors are more likely to leave than tenured faculty.

For now, the decision is concrete. The chancellor said, in his letter to employees, that the early retirement option will be gone for the foreseeable future.

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