Magazine invited Provost Geoffrey Stone, JD'71, to comment on
James Shapiro's essay, and especially on issues relating to tenure
and faculty retirement, from a U of C perspective.
the proliferation of part-time faculty is not a significant issue
at the University of Chicago, and the placement of our graduate
students continues to be one of our great strengths, the gradual
“graying” of our faculty is a matter of concern, as it is at all
major research universities.
The institution of tenure is fundamental to academic
freedom. It facilitates robust intellectual debate and enables
scholars freely to explore controversial issues and to undertake
long-term, high-risk avenues of inquiry. It is an indispensable
condition for the creation of new knowledge. As Mr. Shapiro notes,
however, there is an important distinction between tenure as a
means to preserve academic freedom and tenure as a means “to prolong
Because the institution of tenure rightly makes
it difficult for a university to remove a faculty member, the
policy of mandatory retirement at a fixed age played a central
role in helping universities to maintain the essential balance
between academic freedom and intergenerational vitality. When
Congress eliminated mandatory retirement in universities in the
1980s and early 1990s, however, it significantly upset that balance.
Since then, universities have looked for ways to
encourage faculty members to retire in order to make room for
the next generation of teachers and scholars. To that end, in
1993 the University adopted a Faculty Retirement Incentive Program
(FRIP), which provides financial and other incentives for faculty
members to retire from active service between the ages of 65 and
70. In addition, the University has made a firm commitment to
respect the needs of emeritus faculty members and to ensure that
emeriti may—in appropriate ways—continue their teaching, research,
and active participation in the intellectual life of the University.
This program, which has been a model for other universities,
has served us well. Approximately 75% of U of C faculty members
who have turned 70 since the FRIP was instituted have voluntarily
retired between the ages of 65 and 70. By assuming emeritus status
by the age of 70 in order to create opportunities for the next
generation, these colleagues have fulfilled both their professional
and institutional responsibilities. They have helped to ensure
the future of their fields and of the University.
Let me cite just two examples—one departmental,
one individual. Several years ago, one of our most distinguished
departments faced a turning point. The cohort of faculty members
who had built the department over the past thirty years were entering
their 60s. To ensure the continued eminence of the department
that they had spent their careers nurturing, and to ensure that
their department would have the capacity to reconstitute itself
in an orderly manner, these senior faculty members jointly pledged
to retire within the terms of the FRIP. As a consequence, that
department has brilliantly made the transition across generations
from the best in its field to the best in its field.
At a more personal level, we need look no further
than Hanna Gray. After 15 years as president of the University,
Mrs. Gray returned to full-time teaching and research in the history
department and the College, during which time she received the
Quantrell Award for excellence in undergraduate teaching. This
past year, Mrs. Gray, without any fanfare, officially retired
in the quarter in which she turned 70. She will, of course, continue
to teach on a regular basis as an emerita faculty member. This
is the type of leadership the University needs and deserves from
its senior faculty.
Despite such examples, the elimination of mandatory
retirement has posed a challenge, even beyond the considerable
costs of the FRIP. It has inevitably forced a difficult trade-off
between senior and junior faculty. In 1992, the University’s Task
Force on Faculty Retirement spelled out the issue: While “many
of our most senior colleagues are as intellectually active as
our youngest colleagues” and continue to make important contributions,
the University cannot afford to “reduce the numbers of new colleagues”
we appoint “because they keep us intellectually vital.”
Although we have done well relative to other universities
in coming to terms with the end of mandatory retirement, the change
in federal policy has caused an appreciable reduction in the resources
available to appoint new assistant professors. Indeed, it is reasonable
to suppose that the University today has some 30 fewer assistant
professors than it would have had if mandatory retirement had
not been eliminated.
Over the past 25 years, the percentage of our faculty
who are 35 or younger has declined from 29 percent to 17 percent
and the median age of the faculty has increased from 43 to 46.
Similar trends are evident in the percentage of faculty with tenure
(gradually increasing) and the percentage of faculty at the rank
of assistant professor (gradually decreasing).
As Provost Robert McCormick Adams, PhB’47, AM’52,
PhD’56, observed in 1984, this development, which affects all
major research universities, is “damaging, not only to the vigorous,
state-of-the-art research and instructional programs that are
immediately affected, but also, more generally, to the intergenerational
continuity toward which any great educational institution must
work.” The task, as always, is to strike the right balance.