Who Needs to Get Rid of Older Academics?

Each day brings yet another completely bizarre and profoundly idiotic solution to the non-existent “crisis” in higher education. Instead of straining their brains and realizing that the calls for profound changes in our system of higher education are part of the anti-intellectual trend of peddlers of stupidity as a life goal, my fellow academics show just how servile they can be by inventing ridiculous self-castrating methods of pruning everything that’s of value on American campuses.

See, for example, the following disturbing article published at Inside Higher Ed. This online resource (which is supposed to be written for academics by academics) has turned into one of the biggest academia-bashers in existence. It is now proposing that colleges should get rid of scholars over the age of 65 because they cost too much and can easily be replaced with new PhDs:

First, these individuals are expensive. They are generally tenured, often hold endowed chairs, and are at the top of the faculty compensation scale. While they might be great teachers and/or researchers, they can often be replaced by a young faculty member at less than half the cost.

Most of us leading colleges and universities must consider the expense of those who continue to want to be employed after age 65 because of the national attention on the cost of higher education and faculty compensation is often the largest slice of that cost.

I have go to wonder whether the person who wrote this is simply dishonest or painfully stupid. This national obsession with the supposedly sky-high salaries of college professors is based on a myth that people like the author of this piece promote. Compared to the huge amounts of money wasted on college athletics, remuneration of useless overpaid administrators and the maintenance of silly fraternities and sororities, the salaries of experienced academics are a drop in the bucket. The benefits of having people with decades of experience in teaching and research on campus, however, are enormous. I have two 60+-year-old colleagues whose assistance in navigating the academia in general and my institution in particular has been incredibly helpful. A university simply cannot function without  constant interactions and exchanges of knowledge and experience between academics who are at the very beginning of their journey as scholars and more experienced, seasoned academics.

The reason why this completely fictitious concern over “hugely expensive” older scholars is being manufactured is simply that older tenured scholars fight for the rights of academics and students very effectively. At my university, I have witnessed several highly effective campaigns in defense of the rights of college professors spearheaded by 60+-year-old scholars whose decades of experience in conducting (and winning!) such fights were both helpful and inspiring.

The author of the article (who, as you might have guessed already, is a college administrator) makes the following suggestions aimed at squeezing mature academics out of their universities:

  • Give up tenure at age 65 — a move that ensures younger superstar faculty will have an opportunity to stay at the institution.
  • Relinquish endowed chairs or professorships. In this case, time is not on a younger professor’s side. If they cannot see a path to promotion they will go elsewhere.
  • Take a reduced salary based on a pay scale similar to incoming faculty. Yes, when you play with salary questions, you’re playing with fire, but in most cases living expenses go down as we educate our kids and pay off homes. And Mick Jagger solo makes less than the Stones. Much less.

The fake concern over the younger faculty members is especially offensive to me. Surely, this administrator is aware that what destroys tenure positions is not the existence of older academics but the creeping adjunctification of American campuses. Transform all adjunct positions into tenure-tracks and you don’t have to push out older scholars by humiliating them.

Americo Castro, one of the greatest scholars of Spanish history and literature, wrote his The Structure of Spanish History at the age of 69 and his Out of the State of Conflict at the age of 76. Benedict Anderson, one of my favorite historians, published Debating World Literature at 68. Fernando Lázaro Carreter, a great linguist, published his hugely popular defense of the Spanish language against those who torture it at the age of 74.

As a younger professor in whose name this administrator claims to speak, I can assure everybody that the last thing I need to happen for my career advancement is the massive removal of older academics from the campus. There are some dead-weights in academia, for sure, but I have never seen any connection whatsoever between being a dead-weight and being of a certain age.

11 thoughts on “Who Needs to Get Rid of Older Academics?”

  1. I think you are exactly right about this, Clarissa.

    Curiously, when compulsory retirement was outlawed for faculty, the average retirement age for faculty at my university went down, not up, in spite of the few who stayed longer that they could have before (as I have.)

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  2. This is an old administrative trick. You create a lifeboat scenario where someone has to be dumped overboard to save the rest in the boat. Next each one has to justify why they deserve to stay on the boat. This destroys any solidarity among the employees. The students are just conduits of money from the loan orginators to the corporation where you want to minimize the overhead of giving them an education.

    Next year is the year of the American federal government austerity effort no matter who wins and with massive reductions in federal transfer payments to the states and universities the plans are already being drawn up for a new private educational sector with different priorities from the traditional ones.

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  3. I have a brilliant idea… fire the administrator, and with their leftover salary, hire 3 new tenure track faculty! 😛 Seriously, the idea that professors are what’s costing academia so much is beyond ridiculous. Seems like his job is to sit around and be basically useless, so why not have him do some good in the world of higher education, and sacrifice himself for those new “superstar young faculty” he supposedly wants to kick out the “superstar old (PROVEN, EXPERIENCED) faculty” to make room for…

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      1. Last year U of F let the Koch brothers decide the curriculum and hiring of introductory economics courses so the freshmen get Libertarian fantasy ECO 101 instead of even mainstream neoliberal economics with which I still have a problem. Why have the ability to develop math based economic models when you can hire a couple of priests to do augury?

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  4. I totally agree with you: unfortunate and very rude instrumentalization of the whole academic career path trying to be justified by some fake altruistic reasoning. We need our experienced older professors morethan ever with this constant attack on education. Why would any one have to be compulsively retired at a certain age instead of choosing by themselves when to do so? It’s humilliating, uncalled for, undeserved, and it serves no purpose. Administrators’ economicist measures like this one “to improve” eeducation on campus are ultimately killing it and that’s not cool. Why doesn’t this guy retire if all he can do with his paid time is come up with stupid policies like this one? See, this is definitely a waste of money in any institution!

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