Positions may go unfilled after faculty retirement

At least 21 professors are retiring after this year, and they may not be replaced.

Danielle Nordine

As the semester comes to a close, at least 21 professors are finishing up their time at the University of Minnesota, but their positions may not be filled next year. Because of the UniversityâÄôs financial situation, many colleges are not replacing faculty who retire from or leave the University. Administarators have said the practice is meant to save money and minimize the number of necessary layoffs, but some are concerned it is affecting the quality of education. Many positions are remaining open because of a hiring pause that has been in effect since November 2008 and states that before being filled, all open positions must be âÄúreviewed and deemed essentialâÄù by administrators. The College of Liberal Arts also said in a report last week that it plans to leave 40 open faculty positions unfilled as part of its overall strategy for surviving the financial situation in the coming years, which includes cutting the amount of its programs in half. âÄúThis is absolutely going to cause problems,âÄù Michael Dennis Browne, a creative writing professor retiring after this semester, said. âÄúI know itâÄôs the financial reality, but I think itâÄôs creating a terribly difficult situation.âÄù Browne, who worked at the University for 39 years, said the English department has hired a temporary replacement for his position next year, but students need the continuity of a permanent professor. The decreasing number of faculty is causing some departments to cut courses and put curriculum development on hold, Eva von Dassow, a professor in the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Studies, said. Some courses have also had to be combined and made into large lecture courses, creating a âÄúfactory educationâÄù and decreasing the opportunities for individual attention, she said. The number of University employees retiring decreased each year between the 2005-06 and 2007-08 academic years, but in 2008, the Board of Regents approved the Retirement Incentive Option, which caused retirement numbers to skyrocket. The option, which was created to minimize the need for layoffs, was a one-time offer to encourage eligible faculty and staff to retire, Jackie Singer, director of employee benefits in the Office of Human Resources, said. The option offered employees 36 months of medical and dental coverage in exchange for retiring by the end of the 2008-09 academic year, she said. That year, 532 employees retired, more than double from the year before. Nearly 80 percent of them took advantage of the Retirement Incentive Option. There has been no discussion of implementing another program similar to the Retirement Incentive Option in the near future, Singer said. However, many still fear that the situation will get worse in the coming years. âÄúThere are now fewer faculty for the same number of students âĦ and those students are paying higher and higher tuition,âÄù von Dassow said. âÄúStudents are paying more for a worse product.âÄù