University
Retired professor of spatial economics Jan Oosterhaven: ‘I’d extended my position using project money. But the faculty should really have a policy in place.’ Photo by Reyer Boxem

‘UG’s retirement polici is too strict’

Leaving
gradually

Retired professor of spatial economics Jan Oosterhaven: ‘I’d extended my position using project money. But the faculty should really have a policy in place.’ Photo by Reyer Boxem
‘Retired professors are just supposed to disappear’, Anneke Mulder-Bakker (81) said a little bitterly in the UKrant series Retirement? What’s that? Other retired professors also think the UG’s retirement policy is too strict; they missed a way to leave gradually.
25 January om 10:42 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 8 February 2022
om 13:02 uur.
January 25 at 10:42 AM.
Last modified on February 8, 2022
at 13:02 PM.

Door Rob van der Wal

25 January om 10:42 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 8 February 2022
om 13:02 uur.

By Rob van der Wal

January 25 at 10:42 AM.
Last modified on February 8, 2022
at 13:02 PM.

Rob van der Wal

Betty Meyboom’s access card was blocked before she was told it would be. And when Catrinus Jepma wanted to keep working at the UG after his retirement, he was rebuffed. ‘The dean at the Faculty of Economics and Business no longer had use for my services: that was their policy.’

Professor of economic geography Henk Folmer says the current policy is robbing the UG of opportunities. ‘Often against the wishes of the faculty boards, the UG board of directors often discards motivated and experienced lecturers or researchers as though they become useless the moment they retire.’

At the age of sixty-six, Folmer was asked to supervise PhD candidates at the UG. He did this for years, to the satisfaction of his dean, but was forced to quit immediately when the board of directors found out. ‘They said it had the air of fraud.’ By then, Folmer was over seventy, and the rules state that no one of that age is allowed to supervise PhD candidates. At his insistence, he was allowed to finish supervising the candidates he had at the time, but after that, he had to go.

Cheaper

He feels he was unjustly made to leave. After all, retired professors can help lighten the excessive workload at the university. Besides, Folmer received no pay save an allowance for expenses, which meant he was much cheaper than a regular professor.

There are ways in which retired professors can stay at the UG, but it’s not easy, especially when it comes to getting paid for their work. If they do manage to get some kind of contract, it’s never for more than five years, says UG spokesperson Anja Hulshof. ‘If the university hasn’t found someone else to fill the position or if a professor is of great importance to their field, we can arrange for a temporary contract. All our faculties’ deans support this particular policy.’ 

Extending someone’s professorship always has to go through the board of directors, according to Hulshof, since they have clear directives on the matter. This policy largely consists of national university guidelines, says Hulshof. 

Hot desk

Biochemist Henk Kauffman is one of the professors who obtained a temporary appointment after his retirement. Even before he was due to retire, he’d already intimated that he wouldn’t mind staying on a bit longer. Several months after his retirement in August of 2004, he was hired to be a full-time coordinator of internationalisation at the UMCG for the next five years. He received pay for two days a week. The rest was paid for by his pension. 

Saying a decent goodbye is an art

UG spokesperson Anja Hulshof

Ton Schoot Uiterkamp also received official permission to keep working from his dean, he says. He can stay until at least January of 2024. He doesn’t need his old office. It belongs to PhD candidates now. He hot desks, which is fine with him. ‘That’s just how it goes.’

‘Whether the board grants a request to continue depends not just on whether there’s room at a department’, says Hulshof, ‘but also on the relationships within the group, such as whether someone gets along with their successor, for example. There have been situations where this wasn’t quite the case. Saying a decent goodbye is an art, really.’

Leiden

Mulder-Bakker decided to go elsewhere. ‘I didn’t necessarily mind that I had to leave the UG’, she says. ‘But I did need support in setting up research groups. Leiden was able to provide that.’ The University of Leiden hired her as a guest researcher for four years. 

Leiden differs from the UG in other ways, too. There, retired professors retain access to their email address for the rest of their lives. They also retain both physical and digital access to the university library and even to IT workspaces. In Groningen, you have to request special access.

University Maastricht is even stricter. What’s more: ‘Many people feel the policy is hurtful, a slap in the face’, UM professor Aagje Swinnen concluded after a survey among retired professors in 2017. The day their retirement started, professors not only lost access to their email address, but their publications were also removed from the website. An exit interview wasn’t even standard at the university.

Clarity

If the faculty board is in favour, retired professors might have their contract extended. But the details of these vary, says Peter Verhoef, dean at the Faculty of Economics and Business. Some retirees don’t mind no longer working; they would simply like to retain access to facilities such as email and the library, says Verhoef. ‘They can request that by filling out a form.’

After all, they’re human capital that we shouldn’t just get rid of

Peter Verhoef, FSE dean 

Others want more, like an office. ‘We ask those people if they can continue to contribute to the department’, says Verhoef. ‘Some people stay and do a bit of research, but they don’t need a contract for that.’ When he does give people a contract, it comes with a teaching requirement, but not for very many hours, he says. ‘Something like 0.1 or 0.2 FTE.’

After five years, the retired professor stops receiving a salary. ‘It’s to create clarity’, says Hulshof. ‘To facilitate the flow of new people and to prevent setting a precedent.’ 

After that, there’s only one option left: volunteering. Unless you go even farther away.

America

Even before he retired, Kauffman was being scouted to continue his work in America, where they have a completely different attitude to retirement. In fact, the word retirement is taboo, Schoot Uiterkamp realised when he was working in the US and inquired after the retirement options. ‘I would have caused less of a fuss if I’d dropped my trousers in public. They consider it age discrimination.’ Kauffman didn’t go. ‘By the time I was retired, I didn’t feel like it anymore.’

Verhoef wonders if the American system is all it’s cracked up to be. ‘I’ve seen people in their eighties attend conferences, and I can’t help but wonder if that’s wise. Why do these people keep working for so long?’ 

On the other hand: You can also ask if sixty-seven is the right age to retire. ‘I’ve noticed that many retiring professors are still pretty sprightly. It’s changed a lot from twenty or thirty years ago.’ If it were up to him, not everyone should be made to feel as though they have to disappear. ‘I want to always have room for active people. After all, they’re human capital that we shouldn’t just get rid of.’

Demotion

Isn’t there some middle road? Folmer wonders if employees might not gradually reduce their workload without having to adhere to a strict retirement date. ‘If a retiree wants to continue and the faculty is okay with that, they should be given the opportunity to do so. If one of the parties says it’s no longer feasible, the arrangement ends.’

Since there’s a promotion policy to help people at the start of their careers, there should also be a demotion policy

Jan Oosterhaven, retired professor

Retired professor of spatial economics Jan Oosterhaven has a similar suggestion. ‘Since there’s a promotion policy to help people at the start of their careers, there should also be a demotion policy.’ He did it himself. ‘I’d extended my position using project money. But the faculty should really have a policy in place. It’s something that needs to be arranged on a case-by-case basis. But the initiative is now lacking.’

The HR department of the RUG says it understands the desire of professors very well, says policy officer Grytsje van der Meer in a reaction. ‘Some like to really end their career, but others would like to continue.’

Still, the department sees no reason to change the policy, responds policy advisor Grytsje van der Meer. And she doesn’t think the faculty boards or the UG board feels much of an impetus to change it, either, because options to remain involved with the university are already in place, she says. Professors might want to keep working, ‘but the need to stay employed must come from both parties: employer and employee.’

Retirement? What’s that?

From the series ‘These scientists don’t know how to quit’

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