Academics Never Retire Part 1
By Emeritus Professor Don Anderson BA PhD FASSA
of the ANU Emeritus Faculty 2009 to 2011
will just have to spend our time thinking”
- attributed to
Lord Rutherford when reporting to his team at the Cavendish that all funds for
equipment had been cut.
“During the next 40 years, the over-65s in the population would go from
representing one in six people to one in four and those over 85 from one in 200
to one in 20...the younger senior generation is the healthiest, best educated
and best resourced to ever stop full time work”
- Julia Gillard, Prime Minister of Australia, Australian Financial Review 5 August
Fortunately for the ANU, in 2000 a small group of
retiring academics organised themselves in a way that would become very
relevant in the Australian demographic which would unfold ten years later. This is their story. There is a lesson in the story which needs to
be considered by the higher education sector.
This paper explores the contributions made by retired
academics to teaching, learning and community service. Later we present a case
study of the Emeritus Faculty at ANU illustrating the post-retirement
activities of some 180 members. Finally
we will outline how the Faculty is managed and speculate about some of it
First, however, we provide a context of increasing
intervention by government and of consequent changes in the work of academics which
helps explain the new opportunities for retirees. In particular we draw on a survey
to show how government policies for funding and regulating universities have
changed academic work roles including their teaching and research and
contributed to the declining intellectual standards of degrees. And furthermore these changes are influencing academics’
decisions about when to leave and roles in retirement.
Increasing intervention by government
Teaching is the most important thing universities do. This
has been the case since the origin of the modern university in medieval times, and
it remains so today despite all the attention given to research and despite academics’
preoccupation with keeping up publication rates. Universities are supported by
their sponsors primarily because they teach.
Over the centuries universities have had to find the
income to pay their teachers. Student fees have always been important, apart
that is, from a brief period following World War 2 when a governments in Europe
and Australia, for reasons of equity and increased participation, ensured that
tuition was either free or substantially subsidised. In earlier centuries the church and
philanthropy also sponsored universities but, following the industrial
revolution, as universities became essential producers of human capital, governments
became increasingly involved.
Then, during the crisis of World War 2 universities were for the first time
ever regarded as instruments for national survival. In Australia engineering,
science and medical faculties were regarded as reserved occupations and subject
to ‘manpower control’: students received free tuition and handsome living
allowances but were precluded from enlistment in the armed forces. Also
universities received substantial funding for research related to the war
effort. Following the war ad hoc
funding of universities continued as part of the massive program of post-war
reconstruction when participation trebled, and new institutions were established
across Australia. Formula funding by the government was established in the
195Os. At first state and federal governments shared the costs of financing higher
education; but in 1973 the Commonwealth assumed full responsibility for universities:
a move that would have profound consequences for resources and for autonomy.
Initially there was little direct interference by
government in the internal affairs of institutions. An implicit bargain was
struck: in return for educating the graduates required by society the
government left universities free to decide what and how to teach, to set the
academic standards of degrees and to decide on topics for research and
scholarship. An academic career structure awarded tenure to suitably qualified
academics, usually after three or four years ‘apprenticeship’ as tutor or
demonstrator. The student to staff ratio was generous – about 12 to 1, although
the Murray report, the first to recommend a national system of funding, thought
this figure was far too high. Within universities collegial governance by
academics decided on curriculum, standards and the allocation of research
All of this was too good to last and from the 1960s
things began to change as the commonwealth government, now the sole sponsor,
began to steer from a distance via statutory commission charged with
recommending funding for the balanced development of the university system. In 1967
funds were clawed back from budgets and redistributed for the competitive
funding of research via what is now the Australian Research Council. Concern
for increased participation and equity remained and in 1973 university
education was made free.
Demand for university education accelerated and, by
the mid1970s, student participation rates reached the point where one third of
each age cohort enrolled causing the bill for higher education to become so large
as to attract the attention of the federal finance minister who, in the 1980s ,
decided that students should shoulder a substantial
proportion of the costs of their education via a clever scheme which used the taxation
system to deduct students’ tuition fees from their salaries as graduates. At the same time universities
were expected to contribute to their own costs through entrepreneurial activities
and by charging overseas students full fees for their tuition. Government contributions declined from near 100
percent to the point where the core grant now meets only about half of
universities running costs.
At the same time government took a much closer
interest in the way universities were managed and, with ideas copied from
industry, instituted a series of quality assurance reviews. Despite the fact
that universities were comprised of loose federations of diverse professional
and discipline based faculties or schools each with its distinct cultures,
standards and teaching requirements, the quality reviews focussed on the total
institution. The exercises contributed little to the advancement of university
standards and were eventually abandoned. They did however serve to strengthen
university administrations which were required to assemble vast portfolios of
information in advance of quality visitations. Government also changed the way
universities were governed, requiring university councils to be constituted
more like the boards of corporations.
Per capita funding declined but direct government
intervention in university affairs increased. The Higher Education Council, a
representative statutory body which had advised government on universities’
needs was abolished. The government demanded statistics to the point that their
compilation required full time administrative officers and substantial
additions to the academic work load. Not
satisfied with this government became entranced with measurement and devised
questionnaires to measure students’ evaluations of their courses and graduates’
intellectual attainments. A postgraduate research experience questionnaire purported
to measure the quality of research supervision. None of these expensive
exercises has any proven relationship to the behaviours they are supposed to
In the research area publications, citations and
grants are counted and their use affects the life chances of individual staff,
the reputations of institutions and the sorts of research questions that are
chosen. Because career advancement depends
on a steady output of publications the volume of research has increased at the
expense of quality, research topics are chosen that are likely to lead to positive
results in a short time; more difficult research questions are eschewed.
The ratio of students per staff member has increased
to over 20 to 1. Face to face encounters between undergraduate and staff are
rare; and student time on campus is reduced because most full-time students engage
in substantial paid employment. Within universities academic tenure is harder
to obtain; the use of casual staff for teaching has increased. Collegial
governance has declined and important decisions on academic matters were
increasingly made by professional managers.
Changing Work Roles
This transformation of collegial academies into
competitive corporate institutions has profound implications for the central
business of universities of teaching and learning; and for the intellectual
standards of degrees. And the work roles
of academic staff are changing. This process has been documented in a national
survey of staff which reported on changes (over a period of 20 years) in their
teaching, research and administration; and evaluated whether any changes were
for the better or worse. [Anderson, Johnson and Saha]
The survey found that morale was not high – and,
although there were some differences between fields of study and between
institutions, these were les significant than attitudes across the entire
sector. A majority in all universities claimed that they would not recommend an
academic career to a bright young school leaver – this is in contrast to school
teachers surveyed at about the same time where a majority said that they would
recommend teaching as a career. Consistent with this is the 25 percent of
academics who said they were considering early retirement.
A majority also believed that the intellectual
standard required for pass degree examinations had declined. Reasons given for
this included the lower standard now required for a university place, the
increased use of casual staff for teaching and the declined resources. In some
universities there was explicit reference to pressure from management to keep pass
rates high, and in particular not to fail too many overseas students.
Most staff said that their teaching was less important
to them than research; some regarded teaching as a chore to be avoided if
possible. Behind these attitudes was the belief that good teaching was neither recognised
nor rewarded, particularly when it came to promotion. Furthermore with
escalating rates of participation, there were more students needing help on a
one to one basis if they were to make the grade.
Both collegiality and collegial governance was reported
to be on the decline. The former was regrettable but due to work pressures,
particularly the relentless pressure to write grant applications, get the
research done and write it up for publication. The decline of collegial
governance was not a big issue for many; in fact it was a good thing to the
extent that it allowed more time to get on with research.
There is as yet no systematic account of the research
and teaching undertaken by retired academics hired as casuals, or by retired
non-academics for that matter. The growth of the casual sector has attracted
the attention of the NTEU which has commissioned studies of what is regarded as
a problem with industrial implications as well as a problem of standards. Initially
NTEU was opposed to the development of a casual teaching force. But with the
growth of this sector – there are estimates that half of undergraduate teaching
and examining is done by casuals – the union policy appears to be to improve
the rights and conditions for casual workers, including some sort of tenure.
This could be the beginning of a divide akin to the former division of higher
education between Colleges of Advanced Education where the staff were paid to
teach, and universities where they were paid to teach and research: except that
now the binary divide would be within institutions, not between them.
Roles for Retirees
In this paper we are drawing attention to the
potential for organisations like the ANU Emeritus Faculty to promote and
enhance contributions by academic retirees to teaching and research.
ANU is the only university in Australia with an
organisation of retired members (and there seem to be very few in the
world). But there is no reason to think
that the role of ANU retirees is much different to that of retirees in other
The ANUEF is aware,
however, of potential industrial problems and that such contributions should
not diminish the employment opportunities of younger qualified academics. This
applies to teaching rather than to research and scholarship. It is a matter
that has been discussed informally and amicably with staff association
representatives and at the present time no problems have occurred. Invitations
to undertake occasional lectures or tutorials, assistance with supervision of
graduate students, mentoring of new staff, or just being available for consultation
are welcome activities. Running a workshop on thesis writing may perhaps be
acceptable. But designing a new course or giving a series of lectures should be
remunerated under standard conditions.
At most universities a Visiting Fellowship may be
offered where a department, not necessarily the original department, wishes to
recognise and retain the services of a retiring academic. At ANU the status of
Visiting Fellow includes all/most of the rights and privileges (access to library,
computing services etc., membership of committees, car parking, and insurance)
of a regular academic except being paid. Fellows are required to submit reports
annually on their work, and may apply for reappointment. The delicate question
of renewal in the case of VFs who may no longer be contributing can be politely
settled by reference to the need for accommodation by new staff.
Research activities by competent retirees are
generally welcome contributions to a department’s programme and to a
university’s tally of publications. Most retirees continue to research and
publish in the field where they made reputations. A few, delighted to be free
from the unrelenting pressure to publish escape to new occupations altogether. There
is significant role change for the retired researcher who no longer feels the
pressures to choose a topic likely to yield positive findings within finite time
that can be reported in multiple papers and lead to further grants. In fact there is the opportunity to move into
an entirely new field of scholarship.
A survey of ANU Emeritus Faculty members’ contributions found [ref]
that, since their retirements:
- half had undertaken research,
- 40 percent had contributed to teaching and supervision,
- 33 percent had tendered expert advice (mainly to government) and
- 30 percent had undertaken community services (eg U3A, welfare, lectures, and
The research and scholarly activities of members has been reported
in approximately 800 publications including about 50 books – contributions that
are not an unwelcome in annual departmental reports. These contributions came
from across the academic spectrum in almost equal proportions from the
sciences, social sciences including economics, and humanities. Many members reported
that they enjoyed the freedom to choose research questions without the pressure
of getting annual publications. Some chose to work in entirely new fields: for
example an experimental pathologist who investigated the origins of World War 1
or the theoretical physicist who investigated reports of ball lightning. These
latter were among the subjects of the monthly lecture series sponsored by the
activities we couldn't quantify include editing, reviewing, and contributions
to their disciplinary organisations.
I've looked at the disciplinary areas of 201 members for whom there was
information. The spread is pretty even across the major fields. The detailed
percent distribution is:
Education (mainly Higher)
The Arts and Theatre
Ecology, Environment, Climate Change
Notes and references will be added if the
paper is published.
Academics Never Retire Part 2
By Giles Pickford BA (Hons) ATEMAF
Secretary, ANU Emeritus Faculty 2000-2012
The ANU Emeritus Faculty is still unique in
Australia. There are clubs, such as the
one at UNSW, whose memberships are limited to Emeritus Professors only, but we
see ourselves as different from those organisations.
We believe that we have earned the title “Faculty”
because of these characteristics:
Faculty is conducting one self-funded multi-disciplinary research project
at the moment
of our members are conducting their own research privately
are collecting the oral histories of the ANU
write the obituaries of the ANU greats
publish “E-Texts”, an archive of the works of members.
have been involved in teaching honours students
are involved in the supervision of post graduates
conduct colloquia on matters of public interest
conduct a monthly public lecture series
have supported the Arts by sponsoring an Art Student
provide advice to the University Executive but only when asked
publish a monthly e-Bulletin which contains articles of major public
have run residential summer schools for secondary teachers
get involved with major events like the National Science Festival and the
Centenary of Canberra in 2013
Our membership comprises academics from most areas of
the ANU and members of the professional staff (this is the term which has
replaced general staff, ancillary staff, non-academic staff and a plethora of
other descriptors). Just as a university
relies on its professional staff to carry the workload outside teaching and
research so does the Emeritus Faculty.
The ANU supports us in many non-monetary ways. We are very grateful for this support, which
includes a large room, assistance with phone and power bills, and IT support
We are self-governing, being an Association
incorporated under the ACT Associations Ordinance. We do not interfere in the affairs of the
ANU. Our members can act politically as
individuals, but the Faculty does not act politically as a whole.
A Theory of Work and Play
When we consider why academics continue to work long
after their pay has been stopped, we begin to realise that unpaid work is not
work. By definition that means that it
must be play which is the opposite of work.
Most really important mental work is play because it
is unpaid: or insufficiently paid which is similar.
Coal mining is work because if you didn’t pay the
miners they would do something else and there would be no coal.
Thinking is play because people will think for the
sheer joy of it. The only reason why thinkers are paid is in order to
stop them wasting their time working.
Under our Constitution http://www.anu.edu.au/emeritus/ANUEF_Constitution_2011.pdf we are administered by a Committee which is elected annually at the
Annual General Meeting.
The Committee meets monthly and has 12 members elected
at the AGM. The Committee elects the
Office Bearers who are the Chair, two Vice-Chairs, Treasurer and Secretary. The rest of the committee has responsibility
for portfolios, including web site manager, membership officer, annual
excursion organiser, lecture series organiser, editor of the monthly
newsletter, audio-visual officer, Centenary of Canberra organiser, and
secretary of the research project.
It is not an onerous task to administer an Emeritus
Spreading the Word
When one of us was trying to persuade another
Vice-Chancellor to start an emeritus faculty in his own university he replied
“why would I want to set up a government in exile of all my most powerful
This is a fear which fortunately our own
Vice-Chancellor Ian Chubb did not have.
Professor Chubb has never been frightened of anything, and he willingly
gave us his blessing in the early days of our formation.
There are a bit more than 200 of us. It has been quite difficult spreading the
word around the ANU because the Privacy Act apparently prevents the University
from giving us the e-mail addresses of staff who are about to retire.
The fact that there is no privacy anywhere goes
unnoticed. You cannot walk down the
street without being video-taped many times over, News Ltd has read all your
e-mails, and your bank has accidentally given all your financial details to
thousands of strangers by mistake.
Anyway, if we can reach 200 members over ten years by
word of mouth, there is no knowing what size we will reach if “privacy” is
eventually abandoned as a lost cause.
The International Scene
The international scene has been revealed to us by Ken
Rea, an academic at the University of Toronto.
He has made a You Tube of his findings which is here: http://tinyurl.com/88z2azz
We feel that, for the
reasons stated by the Prime Minister at the start of this paper, it will not be
long before Emeritus Faculties start appearing around Australia and New Zealand.