NPR logo At Universities, Aging Professors Aren't Retiring. And Why Would They?

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At Universities, Aging Professors Aren't Retiring. And Why Would They?

The Oval Park, Stanford University. Jill Clardy/Flickr hide caption

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Jill Clardy/Flickr

Having spent some time on the Stanford University campus, in Palo Alto, California, I can vouch for its beauteousness. There are big, verdant lawns; Mission-style buildings; wide bike lanes; and palm trees.

Its libraries are full — or, as NPR's Laura Sydell reported, they have been full — of hundreds of thousands of volumes and journals. The school's students and faculty are top-notch, and its alumni are influential.

Standing in The Oval Park, looking down Palm Drive, you might wonder — as I have — how such a perfect place can exist. Even in December, the weather is wonderful.

Denizens of the Stanford ivory — stucco? — tower are lucky, and as reporter Lisa M. Krieger points out in the San Jose Mercury News today, that's causing trouble for the university.

"Many workers yearn for retirement — the goodbye parties, the golf course, maybe even a gold watch," she writes. "But Stanford University has the opposite problem: Nobody wants to leave."

Hoping to create more space for young scholars, Stanford has revamped its generous "Retirement Incentive Program" — for the second time in a decade — to nudge more old-timers toward the door.

The provost has urged older faculty to take a phased-retirement deal. "Retired faculty can keep their campus home, Faculty Club membership and free campus parking," Krieger writes. "Other benefits include a 'Tuition Grant' program for children, $500 toward financial planning expenses and use of libraries, gyms and the glittering Avery Aquatic Center."

They're eligible to act as principal investigators on research. They can join a vibrant community of emeritus faculty, which the university supports.

The thing is, only a handful of professors have signed up.

This is a problem at colleges and universities across the country, apparently.

Krieger points to the California Institute of Technology, where Rudolph A. Marcus, 86, still teaches chemistry; Harvard University, where Roy Glauber, 84, still lectures; and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where the "math department reports that 27 percent of its faculty is older than 70."