As members of the faculty, we all recognize the critical importance of our ability to recruit the very best faculty in our fields of education and research, in order to maintain a faculty that is continually strengthened and renewed. With this in mind, the Provost’s Office, in partnership with MIT’s Human Resources Department, has recently begun to examine ways in which the faculty renewal process can best be sustained.
Together with Vice President for Human Resources Alison Alden, I convened a small group of staff from Human Resources, the Provost’s Office and the Finance Office, as well as the Chair of the Faculty, Bish Sanyal, that began working last spring to identify ways to address faculty renewal issues and to develop a process for engaging faculty discussions on this topic beginning this fall.
A key ingredient in successful faculty renewal involves understanding how faculty members form their plans related to retirement, an important personal decision that normally includes such issues as timing, financial and health-related concerns, and opportunities for post-retirement activities that allow an ongoing connection with the Institute.
In our academic culture, it is clear that “retirement” does not normally signify a complete disengagement from one’s professional career, and there is no single formula for making the transition from a tenured appointment to a retired status. For many of us, retirement will represent a rearrangement of priorities related to the teaching, research and service activities that have formed our careers, influenced by personal interests and goals.
As background to considering how MIT might address these issues, we reviewed the Early Retirement Incentive Program that the Institute offered as a one-time, voluntary option in 1996, which provided cash payments and other financial benefits in return for a commitment to retire. The 1996 program was viewed to have had generally successful results in terms of the numbers of faculty who chose to participate in the program coupled with the extent to which new faculty hires were made over subsequent years to replace those who had retired. In contrast to the 1996 program, which provided a limited period of time during which faculty had to decide whether or not to participate in the program, we are hoping to develop an ongoing, sustainable program that would provide a continuing framework of retirement options for faculty. Like the 1996 program, any new program would be completely voluntary.
We have also examined the retirement programs that several of our peer institutions have in place which are designed to facilitate the transition from a full-time tenured faculty appointment to a retired status. Many of these other programs involve options for faculty to receive incentive payments linked to retirement.
Some of them also permit the opportunity to phase out teaching or research duties over a certain number of years in order to provide a more gradual approach to retirement. These are the kinds of possible options that we wish to consider for an eventual MIT program that we hope will emerge from our discussions.
In examining these issues, we want to engage the faculty to the fullest extent possible in helping to formulate a set of policies that will guide MIT’s faculty retirement process in the future. As you may know, I introduced this issue at the October 17 faculty meeting, and there have been discussions held this fall with each of the five School Councils and at a recent meeting of the Faculty Policy Committee (FPC). In addition, we have held ongoing discussions within small focus groups organized by a subcommittee of the FPC and at Random Faculty Dinners during this time period. The feedback on these issues that we have been collecting from the faculty to date has been extremely valuable, and this process is continuing throughout the fall. Our goal is to arrive at a set of faculty renewal guidelines by the spring of 2008 that will provide MIT faculty with clear and positive options for making the transition to retirement that are in harmony with the goals of our academic departments for intellectual renewal and that are sustainable on an institutional level.
I very much look forward to your continuing participation in these important discussions in the coming weeks and months. We have established a Website dedicated to this topic at web.mit.edu/facultyrenewal/, which provides a brief overview of the faculty renewal project as well as some general background on MIT retirement benefits policies, and provides a mechanism for sending comments and feedback to the faculty renewal working group. I encourage you to visit the site and send us your thoughts on this topic.