Summary of the Problem
The University of North Carolina, chartered in 1789, is the first public university in the United States. It has over 183,000 students spread across sixteen campuses.. UNC employs 36,000 fulltime employees of which 10,000 are fulltime faculty. A survey of tenured faculty revealed that a significant number of tenured faculty were nearing retirement age. The University realized there would be a significant knowledge and experience gap as large numbers of those eligible left the system. Among faculty responding to a university survey on the program, “the overwhelming majority were male, white and married, paralleling the broader demographic characteristics of senior faculty within UNC” (1). The mean age of respondents was 65 years; some 80 percent were male; nearly 93 percent were Caucasian; approximately 84 percent were married. In addition, 74 percent held the rank of professor before entering the program. Respondents had spent an average of 30 years in service at their current institution.
University of North Carolina’s Solution – Workplace Flexibility and Phased Retirement
The UNC phased retirement program began as a trial in1998 and was approved as a continuing benefit for tenured faculty in 2001. The phased retirement program allows fulltime faculty a voluntary opportunity to transition into retirement by retiring, giving up tenure and returning to work on a part time basis if they are at least 50 years old, with at least five years of fulltime service at their current institution, and eligible to receive retirement benefits. Participants continue under contracts that can last from one to five years in length. Each faculty member negotiates their schedule and so far 524 faculty members have taken part. In fall 2004, the most recent semester for which statistics are available, 69 faculty members were actively participating. Which is fewer that the 208 participants in fall 2003. The university has considered expanding the program to include administrators within the faculty personnel system, but so far has not done so.
Obviously the faculty members benefited from the program which provided them with a choice to ease into the transition of retirement while providing the UNC the ability to systematically implement faculty succession planning. The majority of the participants said they were pleased with their decision to participate in the program and would recommend participation to a colleague. Since participants teach fewer classes and significantly reduce administrative responsibilities their non work time is used in a variety of ways, including self employment, volunteer activities and managing care giver responsibilities. The University feels that its phased retirement program is well designed and equitably applied, benefiting faculty as well as the university.
The University of North Carolina program is admirable because it recognizes the benefits of slowing the brain drain that takes place when a significant number of the best and brightest minds are forced to depart due to mandatory policies that do not reflect the work place of today. It is disappointing that the program has not
been extended to all levels of the employee base. Further it seems that the program could be expanded to
take into account the gender bias that exists along the tenure track that has prevented many women from
being able to achieve tenure at the same rate as their male counterparts should they elect to have children.