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Let’s just put them out on an ice flow

June 10, 2010

In the spirit of sticking ones tongue in a sore tooth I offer the following document from the V.P. Finance & Facilities at UPEI: Update on Mandatory Retirement. Really, I have not read anything so churlish in … well, it probably hasn’t been too long, actually. Aficionados of administrative missives at institutions of higher education will recognize some clear themes as well as some common omissions. In this document, the UPEI administration tots up just exactly what reinstating the three employees who filed the complaint will cost the institution, in order, one presumes, to help faculty, staff and students to know exactly who to blame for each and every cost-cutting measure for the next few years.

At no point in this document is there any discussion of the issue of mandatory retirement beyond its effects on payroll. Senior colleagues are positioned as costly impediments; there is no recognition of their expertise, experience, or decades of contributions. There is no discussion of the illogic of suddenly proclaiming people to be incapable based on the turning of a page on a calendar. There is no discussion of whether it is right or just to discriminate against a group of people based on age. In fact, the UPEI administration ominously promises “a more robust system of performance review for all faculty and staff.”

Nor is the discussion of the financial implications of ending mandatory retirement particularly nuanced. If UPEI is like most other institutions, more people leave each year for reasons other than retirement. Yet these are figures an institution is not likely to bandy about, so retirements become the only source of this much-valued “flexibility.” And what price reputation? Do administrations really think they can continue to deliberately erode the faculty complement without deleterious effects on teaching and research?

The argument that mandatory retirement allows for “renewal” is directly opposed to the admission that retirements are “an effective tool for human resources and financial planning.” One can’t have it both ways: retirements either enable the hiring of brave new faculty members, or they are a way to balance the budget. I am not familiar with the situation at UPEI but closer to home we know that only a proportion of retirees are replaced, and in many cases by part-time or term appointments. Hardly “renewal”; “life support” would be more accurate. Sometimes “euthanasia.”

This is not intended as an attack on UPEI; they have merely provided the latest opportunity to note various wide-spread and disquieting trends.

A final note to all those administrators out there clutching their ledgers trying to “save” their institutions by selective cost-cutting: what, exactly, are you trying to “save” if you continue to attack the academic staff? It’s all very well to intone that students are the most important part of a university, but those students would look pretty silly sitting there in otherwise empty classrooms.

To my senior colleagues: I urge each and every one of you to continue to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune: in other words, not to retire. With each and every loss of a senior colleague our universities move one step closer to becoming edu-businesses staffed by underpaid contingent labour, “flexible” and “responsive” to the marketplace while they move further and further away from independent research, scholarship, and the life of the mind. If it were possible to develop software programmes to “deliver” “content,” think of the savings!

And then our students really would be sitting in empty classrooms.

Further reading: UPEI Update / Charlottetown Guardian / CBC News / Academica Group

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