(by guest blogger Manuel Vargas)
My tenure of guest-blogging here at the Splintered Mind is coming to an end. My thanks to Eric for having me, and to all the thoughtful comments and responses I received from commentators. In keeping with my retirement from this bit of guest-blogging, I thought I’d post something about retirement and its norms, since I know so little about it.
Everyone knows at least one professor, whether a colleague at their own institution or some other, of whom it is painfully clear to everyone EXCEPT that person that he or she should retire. So I’ve been told. I don’t actually know such a person myself, but it seems a common enough refrain that I’ve started to think about the phenomenon. In particular, I’m worried that some day I’ll be THAT guy, the guy whom everyone (except me) knows ought to retire. So, in support of my then-colleagues and chagrined students of the future, I’m trying to work out some general principles of retirement far in advance, so that I might apply them to my own circumstances. Will you help me?
In what follows, I offer some initial thoughts about the matter, with the acknowledgment that I will surely retract everything I write in this post at some point in the next 40 years.
First, some caveats about the scope of the involved ‘ought’:
(1) Let’s suppose we are talking about professors who have no real financial need to teach, nor whose psychology would collapse in some profound way if he or she were not teaching any longer.
(2) Let us also suppose that retirement here does not necessarily mean that the professor emeritus ceases to participate in life of the profession or perform research in some guise. We are only concerned with retirement from one’s regular full-time faculty position at the university.
And, (3) let us suppose that in surrendering said position the department is left not dramatically worse off from a long-term staffing or workload standpoint. And to anticipate, no, having to hire a replacement doesn’t count as making a department dramatically worse off in the relevant sense. So, the ought in my usage of the phrase “ought to retire” should be regarded as ranging over a somewhat limited set of circumstances.
Given the aforementioned restrictions of scope, then, I’m inclined to put the sense of ought that is my concern in those circumstances as something like this: when ought a (philosophy) professor to retire, from the combined standpoints of the professor’s dignity and the general well being, given no powerful or important disincentives for doing so, but given that there are finite jobs in the profession at large and in one’s own department.
Some further caveats and refinements:
(4) I recognize that some professors have no dignity and/or no aspirations of dignity. Indeed, I may be one. But that is the sort of dirty, specific kind of detail that we shall discretely to the side. It is better to pretend that all professors (and departments) have aspirations of dignity.
(5) Our considered question is manifestly NOT about age. Or, at any rate, it is not directly about age. Age may or may not be correlated with whether some of the conditions I suggest, but chronological age itself is irrelevant to what follows. There are plenty of philosophers working now who, despite having known Kant personally, are under no “ought of retirement” of the sort under present consideration. And, presumably, there are people could never have heard a David Lewis talk but who, if they had any good sense, would do themselves and their departments a favor and would retire from the profession— if only their university had the good sense to offer them a reasonable retirement package!
(Randy Clarke once called my attention to a principled argument to this effect made by Saul Smilansky in Moral Paradoxes, an argument that concludes that most of us should retire immediately in light of the numbers of people who could do our jobs at least as well as we are doing them. Still, let’s ignore this too for the moment.)
These considerations having been noted, I suggest that a professor should retire when some weighted cluster of the following conditions are satisfied (the weights given by contextual features of the person’s dignity and the department’s aspirations for itself and what one’s university values in their faculty members):
When, after 7 years or more since tenure . . .
(a) One’s classes are repeatedly cancelled for low enrollment at a much higher rate than other full-time faculty members.
(b) One’s published research has not been cited in more than 7 years in a scholarly context.
(c) One has not been invited or induced to participate in an extra-departmental committee in more than seven years.
(d) When one has not served the discipline in any notable professional capacity in 10 years (e.g., editing a journal, refereeing papers, organizing conferences, etc.)
Do these conditions seem about right? Should something be added or deleted? How would you weight the conditions for, say, a teaching institution or a research institution? Is there some other sure-fire indicator for when someone should retire?
Admittedly, some of these conditions and numbers are arbitrary. And this is all way too rough and foolish. That’s okay, so long as the arbitrariness and foolishness don’t preclude a useful discussion. And anyway, we shouldn’t expect more precision that then subject matter permits, which must be true since Aristotle said it.
Please bear in mind that I’m not supposing that retirement means retirement from participating in the life of the profession. I’m simply assuming that one is walking away from a formal position that will be promptly filled by a new philosopher delighted by the prospect of employment in a profession with grotesquely fewer jobs than qualified applicants.
So help me out here . . . how will I know when I should retire from the active, full-time professor gig?
Monday, April 27, 2009
(by guest blogger Manuel Vargas)