absolutely not burned out,” says Michael
Groden over the phone from his home in
Toronto as he prepares for a run on a
warm day in June. At 67, the distinguished
James Joyce scholar was officially retiring
in a matter of weeks. There had been “a
couple of parties,” as well as papers to sign
to remind him that he wouldn’t return to
teaching at Western University in the fall,
as he has for the past 38 years.
He likes that he’s leaving while he feels energetic and in good form.
It’s particularly meaningful for a man who was diagnosed with Stage 4
melanoma at age 32 and who has confounded his doctors by living, working and remaining healthy beyond any predictions given to him back in
1982. Whatever he had to prove, he proved long ago.
“I have no regrets,” says Dr. Groden about his decision to retire now,
although he is sad that his position as a professor of early 20th-century literature will not be replaced. He’s finishing a memoir and looking forward
to travelling and continuing to research the writer who has inspired him
since he first read the novel Ulysses at age 19.
Dr. Groden is hardly alone in working beyond the once standard retirement age of 65. At Western, the number of faculty choosing not to
retire at 65 has risen steadily since the lifting of the mandatory age requirement in 2006. Today, 95 of Western’s 1,100 professors – close to 10
percent – are older than 65, and 21 of these are in their 70s.
That reflects what’s happening at most universities as well as larger
social trends. In 2012, Statistics Canada reported that 24 percent of Canadians aged 65 to 69 were still in the workforce, compared with 11 percent
in 2000. That percentage is bound to keep rising with shifting economic
and social forces and as the age to receive federal old-age benefits moves
to 67 from 65.
The truth is, we are healthier and living longer than any previous generation. With an arbitrary age limit no longer in place, the decision about
when, why and how to leave the workforce has become a highly personal
one. More of us want to continue working in later life because we genuinely enjoy what we do and still feel the passion and energy to do it.
And, of course, financial considerations play a large role in any decision to retire, or not. More people have children in their mid-to-late 30s
and older, meaning they are putting their offspring through university
when they themselves are homing in on retirement age. Female academics, in particular, may have inadequate pensions because of delayed or
Starting the conversation ahead
Geraldine (Jody) Macdonald, senior lecturer, Lawrence S.
Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing, University of Toronto, age 62
helping to organize a conference on retirement sponsored
by the Retired Academics and Librarians of the University of Toronto
last April was an eye-opener for Jody Macdonald. “Seventy-five members
of the U of T faculty association signed up, and only three of those were
planning to [retire] in 2014,” she says. Some in attendance were on the
younger end of the retirement scale and some were in their mid-to-late
60s. Everyone’s situation is unique, and individuals need to pay attention
to details in the options for life insurance, health and disability benefits,
she concluded. Dr. Macdonald – with a 25-year-old daughter in graduate
school – says she won’t be retiring soon herself. “Every year I say ‘I’ve
got five years’,” she laughs. But whatever date it is, she’s determined to be
well informed and, through both the faculty association and RALUT, to
advocate for others.
Phasing out early
Lawrin Armstrong, professor of medieval studies, history
and economics, Centre for Medieval Studies, University of
Toronto, age 55
“you only live once,” says Lawrin Armstrong, explaining
why he’s decided to take a phase-out retirement package that will see him
scale back on teaching over three years and fully retired by age 60. For
many years, Dr. Armstrong has split his time between Canada and Germany, where his German-born wife, also an academic, is based. He’s grateful
and appreciative of the flexibility afforded tenured faculty like him over
the years. But the long commute can be wearisome. “I like what I do, but
after 23 years I think I’ve had enough,” he says. “I’m inclined to agree with
the American guy [Philip Schrodt]. In a field like medieval studies, there’s
a finite amount of work. If people like me never retire, younger people
will never get jobs. We’ve got to move on.”