So I talked to a colleague who’s more-or-less my contemporary, and he said he didn’t know what he would do when he retired. (I didn’t say anything, because I sure as hell know what I will do, and am looking forward to it.) Anyway, I feel that this inability to imagine life beyond the job is the reason why so many faculty take a very long time to retire — they feel there is little for them on the other side. My former advisor retired at 80; I know for a fact that he didn’t want to retire because he did not know he would do with himself if he didn’t work. Had he retired at, say, 70, given his huge salary, two junior people could’ve worked in his stead for a decade for the same money; they would’ve been able to shoot their shot at an academic career, get tenure, maybe even get promoted to full prof. My colleague’s former advisor is in his mid-seventies and not thinking about retiring yet. Both former advisors are people who have families, so there are presumably some loved ones to spend time with. But I have a colleague from another department who has completely sacrificed his personal life for the career; who will he spend the retirement with?
In my department, we’ve been fortunate to hire a number of junior faculty over the past several years. I am blown away by how much they all work and how good they all are. I do feel we make them waste too much time on activities that don’t directly help their careers but consume both time and energy. The current department leadership has their heart in the right place (centered on good climate, good student experience, etc.), but is a little too procedure-, paperwork-, and service-happy. There are way more committees (by a factor of two or three) than when I first started out, yet the department somehow functioned back then, too. Junior folks are being pushed to put their boundless energy into initiatives that I personally think are a waste of time for all faculty, largely because the college already has many staff who are paid to do those jobs, and, judging by the deluge of vacuous emails we get spammed with, said staff are in desperate need of some actual work.
We drain junior people of their time and energy, like institutional vampires, without thinking twice if what we require them to do is actually necessary, and without asking what they give up in order to fulfill these expectations. By making them overwork under the duress of seeking tenure, we stand in the way of them finding respite and fulfillment outside of their jobs. For example, we have a decent number of female faculty. Yet, here has not been a single one either before me or after me who’s had a child on the tenure track. I am still the only one who’s ever done it, and I did it with some confidence because I’d already had a kid in graduate school and knew what to expect. Young men faculty do have kids with their “civilian” wives and enjoy the tenure-clock extensions, while young women faculty simply do not dare even go there. This infuriates me. The parental accommodations ended up being yet another boon for the demographic that already has everything working for them, but it didn’t do much for the demographic that actually needs it. Yes, there are tenure-clock extensions, but we still don’t have actual leave for women faculty who give birth (post-tenure women often use their sabbaticals), and we all pretend like childbirth and early motherhood aren’t ridiculously more physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing on the mother than the father. This blatant inequality forced through artificial equality makes me so angry.
But I digress.
I am on the faculty mentoring committee for some junior folks, and I consider it my role to have their back: I am there to advise them, but also to throw my weight around on their behalf when they need something they are either too uncomfortable to ask for or they’re getting pushback on from the leadership.
Our fucking jobs should not be all-encompassing. And the service roles should be few and far between. We should shield each other from bullshit, not help propagate it. And we should not be sticking junior faculty on the most-time-consuming service roles. I am grateful to then-chair who prevented me from hopping on the most time-consuming committee when I was a newbie. We now seem to populate that committee with junior faculty, and it makes me sad and furious.
Maybe if junior people had a chance to work on other facets of their lives when they are young, if we didn’t burden them with stupid crap when just getting funding in this insane climate is a real challenge, they wouldn’t avoid retirement for literal decades for fear of having nothing to do with themselves once they’re old.
Or maybe I’m just crochety. But I, too, was once, not that long ago, very single-minded in the pursuit of my career; I wanted to work all the time. But sooner or later, we all seem to wonder what else is out there. We ask if what we envision will suffice once the job is no more. I wish the answer were ‘yes’ for more people.