Laurie Fendrich’s November essay in The Chronicle on “The Forever Professors” touched a third rail of academic life that few have dared to approach publicly in the past: Do very senior professors have some sort of duty to retire?
A professor emeritus of art and art history at Hofstra University, who herself retired last year at age 66, Fendrich pulled no punches in her essay about the selfishness that she thinks lies behind many an academic’s decision to carry on working past 70: “Professors approaching 70 who are still enamored with hanging out with students and colleagues, or even fretting about money, have an ethical obligation to step back and think seriously about quitting. If they do remain on the job, they should at least openly acknowledge they’re doing it mostly for themselves.”
To her credit, Fendrich also notes that, for many academics, retirement is a frightening prospect with few of the benefits it provides other white-collar workers: Tenured professors are already living in their golden years with great autonomy and doing what they love. One of us (Perlmutter) has personal experience with the “I’ll never retire” school of thought: His father, to the day he died, at age 87, considered his retirement from faculty life a terrible mistake. <Read more.>