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Navigating Retirement After an Academic Career

March 31, 2019 | Tom Clegg and Marila Cordeiro-Stone, Co-Facilitators of the Retired Faculty Program

Retired Stock PhotoPreparation for retirement is particularly challenging for members of the academic community who have spent the majority of their lives engaged in research, teaching, and leadership. Recognizing retirement as a life-shaping event, the UNC Retired Faculty Association (RFA) and the Institute for Arts and Humanities initiated a major new initiative: The IAH Retired Faculty Program. Designed by and for retired UNC faculty, the seminar provides participants with an environment to reflect on retirement with colleagues at Carolina.

Retirement from a faculty position can differ considerably from retirements in other professions because of the deep involvement, personally and professionally, required in academic work. An article by the Chronicle of Higher Education notes that some faculty members are hesitant to retire because it also means giving up soft benefits of academic employment. This can mean losing the identity as a scholar or respected role at a university or larger community. Therefore, many faculty retirees that were once engaged in writing or research may wish to continue this work during retirement. Others may seek opportunities still tied to university engagement, such as mentoring students and junior colleagues, or by performing administrative roles.

Seeing the obstacles faculty might face, the RFA has long recognized the need to provide faculty with a more in-depth preparation for entering retirement. This led to the RFA’s partnership with the Institute that continues dedication to the vitality and well-being of retired faculty. As an extension of the IAH’s mission of supporting faculty through all phases of the academic life cycle, a program designed for faculty concluding their academic careers was a natural addition to IAH’s existing programs for new and mid-career faculty.


The Retired Faculty Program

Although many higher-education institutions host workshops and one-time educational programs for faculty nearing retirement, the IAH Retired Faculty Program offers an intensive, multi-session seminar program. The seminar supports the retirement process by fostering a community among faculty members from many disciplines and backgrounds, which is aimed at creating a life one loves in retirement.

The Retired Faculty Program provides a unique opportunity for faculty from across departments to reflect on what they want out of retirement. Over eight weekly sessions, a group of eight retirees meets with a defined agenda, assigned readings, homework activities, and discussions led by two retired faculty co-facilitators. This year’s co-facilitators were Tom Clegg, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, and Marila Cordeiro-Stone, Professor Emerita of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. Before leading the seminar, both Clegg and Cordeiro-Stone participated in the pilot program in 2017.

“Each faculty member faces retirement with uniquely individual priorities and concerns. But, participation in these seminars reveals that we also are addressing similar overarching challenges. Discussing such common experiences and concerns is fertilized by the often highly personal conversations and friendships developed during the eight-week seminar,” said Clegg.

Continuing the practice of life-long learning, participants can complete readings and discuss various aspects of faculty retirement that include: adjusting to new routines, changes in professional roles and finances, use of time, quality of life, academic legacy, and how the university could improve the transition from active faculty to retiree status. The seminar is structured for maximum interdisciplinary discussion and exchange of ideas among the participants.

For Cordeiro-Stone, her sincere commitment to conducting this year’s program came from her own participation in its curriculum a year before. She believes that retired faculty members’ experiences and institutional memory can inform new initiatives, and furthermore help resolve problems that surface.

“Retired faculty members willing and interested in continuing their engagement with the university are very valuable resources to students, younger faculty, and administrators,” said Cordeiro-Stone. “The Retired Faculty Program helps retirees to sharpen their future plans, and in many cases, instill in them the desire to continue offering their services to the university.”