Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Vultures and Budgets

It’s hard, sometimes, not to feel like a vulture.

My office got a call today from a very senior professor asking about the paperwork for retiring. He makes over $100k. His replacement, assuming I’m allowed to hire one, would probably come in somewhere in the $40’s. The difference, or breakage, just goes into the black hole of the general budget, to help balance that. (If I’m not allowed to hire one, and we go with all adjuncts, the breakage would be even greater, but at considerable cost to quality.)

From the college’s perspective, this is free money. If we hire the replacement, we’ve kept the staffing levels constant, but cut the budget significantly anyway.

In this budgetary climate, this means that managers spend inordinate amounts of time speculating about retirements.

Salaries here are determined entirely by seniority and contractual, across-the-board raises. They are completely independent of job performance. Some senior faculty are quite good, but there are some whose best work is behind them. They make very high salaries (I have several in the six figures), but often produce at a lower level than their junior counterparts. Since they have tenure, and the Supreme Court in its infinite wisdom abolished mandatory retirement ages for professors (the cutoff used to be 70, which strikes me as reasonable), they leave only when they decide to, or when their health decides for them.

My current college has a very top-heavy full-time faculty, in terms of age and seniority (and therefore salary). Retirements have been fewer and farther between than anticipated, so savings from breakage haven’t been as forthcoming as had been assumed.

In a different fiscal climate, we could prime the pump by offering retirement packages. Philosophically, I’m not a big fan, but it would solve some short-term issues. The state is sufficiently strapped at this point, though, that packages aren’t going to happen. The taxpayers get very crabby about retirement packages, and I can’t say they’re wrong.

So I get unduly excited when a senior professor steps down. I wish that wasn’t true – if the budget were sufficiently flush that it didn’t matter, or if the mandatory retirement age came back so we could anticipate and budget accordingly, or if salaries and raises were tied in some meaningful way to performance – but there we are.

Vultures of the world, unite!