An anonymous professor (call him Professor X) writes:

Just saw you want to hack into my salary, Dave. One aspect of the situation you may or may not have thought of (no one mentions it in comments that I saw): what hit the endowment also of course hit retirement funds of faculty members, so the question arises of when (if ever) a possibly quite significant number of faculty now in their 50s and 60s will be able to afford to retire. I’m thinking, for me, never, especially if I’m flatlining or worse on my salary, and I know others in this age bracket who are thinking the same thing. Is it good for Williams if lots of us hang on into our 70s? Our 80s? Our 90s? With no new faculty slots for youngsters, because we aren’t giving ours up? As one colleague put it, “Well, they can freeze my salary forever, and I won’t be able to retire, and they can start cutting my salary, and I won’t be able to retire….” The demographics could get ugly.

Comments:

1) X is not the same anonymous professor who described visiting professor hiring procedures. EphBlog’s sources are legion.

2) Previous discussions of faculty salary here and here. And, yes, I have been writing on this topic for more than 5 years.

3) I have worried for years, as have other higher ed watchers, about the intersection of tenure and the end of mandatory retirement ages for faculty. Assume that you are, say (pdf), Lawrence Kaplan ($223,184) or Stephen Sheppard ($220,610) or Jay Pasachoff ($212,472). (Annual salary/benefits in parentheses.) Just what incentive do you have to retire? Sure, it might be nice to have some more free time, to not have to teach all those classes. But, if your savings are down, it sure is tempting to stay for another year or two or ten. After all, once you retire, you can’t come back. You lose the option of earning that fat salary.

4) When I have investigated this issue in the past, I have been told that Williams has never had a problem with faculty not retiring when they “should.” The College, by offering various incentives, has been able to get professors to retire when it wants them to. I just worry that this won’t always be true and, moreover, that it could become a big problem very fast. Right now, if a professor tries to stay on, Williams can point out (correctly!) that this just isn’t done. It isn’t the Williams way. Everyone before him retired at the appropriate time and so should he. But, as soon as one or two professors refuse to go, this sort of moral suasion via community standards disappears.

5) What should be done? First, end life-time tenure. Going forward, an award of tenure should be for an explicit time period: 25 years or however many years until age 65 or whatever. This, obviously, won’t solve the problem in the near term, but trustees like Greg Avis should always be thinking about positioning Williams 50 years from now. Second, bribe current faculty members into, voluntarily, swapping their current life-time tenure for the same fixed period contract. An extra $5,000 or $10,000 per year now (along with the (mostly) built-in raises to come) is probably more attractive to the typical associate professor than some hypothetical keep-teaching-even-though-Williams-doesn’t-want-me option to be used decades in the future.

6) If this professor really wants to protect his salary, then I would urge him to take the realities of the budget crisis much more seriously. The reason that Williams does not have enough money to pay him what he wants (and deserves!) is because it is wasting so much money on other stuff. Start here.

I would Cancel the Bolin Fellowships (200k) Close the Boston Investment Office (1 million), End all one or two year positions (1 million), Cancel Questbridge (200k), End Green Spending (2 million), Close the Office of Campus Life (200k), Stop Giving to Local Charity, (750k), Make Significant Cuts in High Salaries (2.5 million), Cut the Budget for WCMA (1.4 million), Cut Visiting Professors (500k) and Cut Faculty Benefits (200k). Total savings of about $10 million.

The best way to avoid cuts in faculty salaries is to push for cuts in other areas. As it is, all (?) that the Administration and Trustees hear from the faculty is a demand to not cut anything. The sooner you and your colleagues cancel the Bolin, for starters, the sooner they will take your opinions more seriously.

7) If I were a Williams professor, I would never retire. I would love teaching so much that they would have to drag my cold dead body out of the classroom.

8) I thank Professor X for sharing his views with us. The more that these important issues are discussed throughout the Williams community, the better.

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