Early retirement program’s future up in the air

summer Sundial

Louise Lewis wasn’t even thinking about retiring when she decided to take part in the Faculty Early Retirement Program.

A colleague told her she should take a serious look at it.

“The main reason I did it was a self-oriented one,” said Lewis, director of the CSUN art gallery. “I’m not certain that it will be around for the future.”

FERP allows tenured faculty and librarians who are at least 55 to work half time for up to five years while receiving retirement benefits, according to Penelope Jennings, interim associate vice president for Faculty Affairs. Half time means they work 50 percent of the hours they worked the previous year.

FERP’s future may be at stake, as the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the CSU and the California Faculty Association is being renegotiated, said John Travis, president of the CFA. Travis said this is nothing new because every three years, everything in the contract is up for renegotiation.

“It’s always on the table,” he said.

Travis said the CFA expected a recommendation from the CSU Board of Trustees regarding FERP, likely a reduction in the length of time faculty can participate.

“But the surprise came when Trustee William Hauck moved for the CSU to propose an end to the program altogether,” he said.

“The members of the CSU administration were also surprised,” Travis said. “No one could remember when the Board of Trustees got that deeply involved in the negotiation process.”

If the program is implemented correctly, it should save the CSU money, Travis said. For the price of a half-time senior faculty member, a full-time junior faculty member can be hired, essentially getting one faculty member for every one who retires, he said.

“It also provides for senior faculty who have experience to teach junior faculty the ropes,” he said. “It takes some of the burden off of them.”

Travis said faculty already participating in the program would not be affected if FERP were eliminated.

CSU Trustee William Hauck said the principal reason he proposed elimination of the program is that the CSU has a “very top-heavy faculty.”

“There are more full professors (than junior faculty members), and they’re heading for retirement soon,” he said. “(The program) is blocking the hiring of younger faculty members. It stands in the way of getting tenure-track professors into the system.”

Hauck said it is beneficial for universities to hire new faculty because it brings new energy to an organization that constantly needs to be revitalized.

Hauck said he does not think the program is fair.

“It doesn’t seem to be equitable that you are able to retire at a greater amount of pay than you had when you worked full time,” he said. “If you’re going to retire, retire.”

Neither Hauck nor Travis expects the program to be eliminated.

“CFA will never agree to let go of the program,” Hauck said. “It’s solely in their discretion because it’s already in the contract.”

At CSUN, some administrators, departments and professors said they see both the negatives and the positives of FERP.

Lewis, who taught in the Art Department for 32 years and who has been running the art gallery since 1980, said FERP gives her more time to work in the gallery.

“I spend more than half time in the gallery, but I don’t feel the pressure of doing both (teaching and directing the gallery),” she said. “I do miss teaching. I miss my students.”

David Moon, chair of the Art Department, said FERP has some negative aspects for his department.

“FERPers’ salaries are not completely recouped by the department,” he said. “We don’t get dollar-for-dollar value.”

Additionally, Moon said senior faculty members know the system and are able to take on many responsibilities, such as sitting on committees.

“If they’re FERPing, they can’t sit on the personnel committee, for example,” Moon said. “Once (senior faculty) leave, it leaves a big void because junior-ranked lecturers can’t serve on committees.”

Another negative is the loss of teaching experience, he said.

“I’m not saying (junior faculty) don’t have the skills, but you can’t replace classroom experience,” Moon said.

On the positive side, FERP gives departments the opportunity to replenish staff, Moon said. “Departments can be rejuvenated.”