May 17, 1999



A survey of faculty who have retired during the past ten years suggests that in general the University's procedures for retirement are working well, although there were enough individual complaints to indicate that service from Human Resources has sometimes been erratic. While a majority of faculty have found the process of retiring not unduly stressful, the following comment by one respondent points up subtle psychological problems associated with retirement that should not be disregarded: "One was left, rather unprotected, to negotiate on a one-to-one basis with the duffel bag of Low Library. I eventually received a severance package that was more or less satisfactory, but some of the detailed negotiation was a bit nerve-wracking."

One issue deserving more attention than we have been able to give it involves the role of retired faculty who continue to serve the University as Special Lecturers. Data provided by Human Resources show that of 364 surviving faculty who have retired since 1978, 145 are currently serving as Special Lecturers. But most of these are from Health Sciences, where the title has a somewhat different meaning than at Morningside. A list provided by the Provost's Office shows 28 Special Lecturers who are continuing to teach, nineteen of whom are based on the Morningside campus. We ask the central administration and the various schools to provide comprehensive figures on Special Lecturers to the Senate Faculty Affairs and Education committees as soon as possible.

Many respondents, not surprisingly, complained about confusion and lack of information about the recent change from Aetna to Cigna in the health benefits program, although there was recognition that the University was caught in a difficult situation. Because further dramatic events in the health care field are expectable, the appeal of many retirees for more current information directed to their concerns should be heeded. The possibility of a semi-annual newsletter which is being considered by Human Resources would be welcomed by most retirees.

Several specific expressions of disappointment and suggestions for improvement in the retirement process deserve prompt attention.

A clearly written, widely available Retirement Handbook is long overdue. Drafts of such a document, which has been in preparation for some time, have been helpful in the preparation of this report. Our appended Information on Faculty Retirement summarizes these drafts, and looks forward to full and up-to-date information to appear in the handbook, with specific names and phone and email numbers for those to be contacted about specific problems (and with commitment by the offices concerned promptly to supply information on changes in these arrangements). Human Resources now says the handbook will be available in the fall.

Better information is a pressing need for faculty. As one respondent wrote about the secrecy of pre-retirement negotiations (described in our Information on Faculty Retirement):

Some will argue that the financial aspects of retirement should be individually tailored, just as salary negotiations are when a professor is being hired. But, in all fairness, the faculty ought at least to be made aware that such an adversarial process exists. Keeping them in the dark does not seem to me appropriate to a university.


Some retirees have experienced difficulty in making use of our computer facilities -- complaints were registered about the difficulty of getting into the system, exacerbated by contradictory instructions, and the absence of anyone responsible for assisting off-campus users. And it is clear, as much from expressions of satisfaction as complaints, that policies in regard to University housing may present a peculiarly awkward problem. Plainly the University needs to have apartments available for younger faculty, but the loss of University housing will act as a severe disincentive to potential retirees. We have urged the Faculty Affairs Committee to address this issue, perhaps in conjunction with the Housing Policy Committee, and at the least assure that the dual tenancy policy now in effect is clearly understood by all who are affected.

The principal general effect of the responses had to be admiration for the sardonic vitality of our retired faculty. One observed that he had no complaints about post-retirement health coverage, "because I immediately went on my wife's plan and have not been dependent in any way on the university's health benefits." Another concluded by remarking: "I am distressed more by the relations of management with active faculty and students than by its relations with retirees. Retirees are merely mortal persons; universities as institutions determine the future of higher education or the absence of a future." And there was the account by a distinguished scientist of being awarded an honorary doctorate by Columbia six months after the University had physically evicted him from his laboratory and changed the locks on its doors to keep him out.

Subcommittee on Retirement Issues

Karl Kroeber, chair

Paul Duby

Joan Ferrante

Letty Moss-Salentijn


University Senate

May 17, 1999




The following account draws heavily on drafts provided by Human Resources and the Provost's Office for a long-awaited handbook on retirement. Publication of the handbook is expected in the fall.

Faculty at least 55 years old are eligible to retire, although they cannot now be required to retire at any age.

When you decide to retire (normally on December 31 or June 30), you must notify your department chair in good time and the Benefits Office at least 90 days before retirement.

Columbia does not offer a basic retirement package with standardized incentives to encourage tenured faculty to retire; you must negotiate your own personal retirement agreement with the University. The University, however, has established several standardized practices and legal requirements, so you may wish to consult your lawyer about any negotiations with University officials.

You should begin by discussing your situation with your Department Chair or Dean, who will refer you to an appropriate administrator to discuss the terms of your retirement agreement. It is important to begin with your Department Chair (or Dean) because your negotiating position is strengthened when your department or school supports your plans.

There are options open to you if you do not choose to provide full-time service up to the date of retirement:

You may maintain a full-time appointment until retirement but provide no services, being placed on a leave of absence, the duration of which, as well as leave salary, is open to negotiation. Or you may phase into retirement providing part-time services acceptable to your department and the Vice President while holding a full-time appointment, with the length of the phasing in, responsibilities to be performed, and salary being open to negotiation. In both these cases you will be eligible to participate in fringe benefit plans for active officers of instruction.

If after retirement you are appointed a part-time special lecturer or special research scientist/scholar, however, you are eligible only for retired officer fringe benefits.

In terms of financial arrangements possible options include: a lump-sum payment at retirement; compensation for pension contributions you forego by retiring early; in a phase-out retirement your base salary may exceed the percentage of the services you provide; if your negotiated agreement includes full leave of absence for a final semester or year, you may still be paid a full or partial salary; you may receive a series of post-retirement payments for a period agreed upon; if eligible, you may receive a final sabbatical or TRFP leave.

Some of these financial arrangements can be combined in your retirement agreement, and it may be possible to shelter some of the additional money you receive from taxes, and you may ask the University to instruct TIAA/CREF to allow you to annuitize a portion of your pension accumulation for up to three years prior to retirement. It is also possible to include a provision that your estate will receive any unpaid portion of the financial incentives in your agreement if you should die before they are fully made.

Normally the regular benefits and privileges of a retired professor are not enumerated in your agreement, these including entitlement to participate in fringe benefits plans for retired officers, and, if you are a full professor, the commitment of the Vice President or Provost to nominate you for the status of Emeritus Professor (which must be approved by the Trustees). Other privileges which MAY be granted to you by the university, and therefore should be of concern to you in your negotiations, include a possible role in the governance of your department and Faculty, involvement with graduate students you are supervising, the right to submit grant proposals through the University, office and laboratory space (but note that normally if you are not providing services to the University you will not receive office or lab space), secretarial assistance, and commuter parking privileges.

The University will demand in the negotiated agreement a commitment from you not to reveal the terms of your agreement to anyone outside your family, lawyer and accountant, and to waive all other claims against the University, with a final proviso stating that you have had the opportunity to consult with an attorney and have been given a legally sufficient time to consider the University's offer.

After you have retired you may continue to have access to University buildings and facilities by revalidating your University ID card. There will be no change in your library privileges as a result of retirement. Your access to the University network and computing facilities will not change with retirement: you will be able, for example, to dial into the University's network from home through the remote access modem pool and use the resources on the Columbia web and net. You may continue to use the University gym facilities. If you have a parking space in one of the University's 24-hour facilities, you will be allowed to retain it, and you will continue to be given a 10% discount on books purchased at the University bookstore. It may be possible for you to participate in some University discount programs with outside vendors.

If your department and school ask you to continue or return to teaching after retirement, you will be appointed part-time Special Lecturer; with the approval of your dean, you may serve as a dissertation sponsor, and participate in dissertation defenses if requested to do so. If the retiree has funded awards, he or she will be appointed a Special Research Scientist.

You should make use of the retirement counselors at the Benefits Office who can help you evaluate your pension plan options and requirements, medical plan options and costs, Medicare coordination, life insurance conversion and the $5,000 death benefit, certain tuition exemptions, and home-financing benefits.

These counselors, besides providing you with information and counseling, will encourage you to visit in person the New York offices of TIAA/CREF for assistance in arranging your pension plans. They will also explain how you can contact the Social Security Administration to obtain these pension benefits (which must be applied for by you).

The Columbia Retirement Handbook (Columbia University Press, 1994), edited by Abraham Monk, contains valuable essays on most aspects of retirement, though most of its essays were written before the uncapping of mandatory retirement for faculty. A copy is available in the Senate Office for consultation.

The Benefits Office will explain the health benefits plan for retired officers, and how it is coordinated with Medicare. The Office can also provide you with information on Medigap insurance and long term care, and on the University's mortgage program that can help retirees find financing for a second home or to refinance an existing home. If, at retirement, you are a full-time officer of instruction without stated term or have been a full-time Columbia employee for 15 years, and if you leased your Columbia apartment prior to June 30, 1989, you will be allowed to remain in it, as will your surviving spouse or same-sex domestic partner when you die. Faculty who signed their first Columbia lease after June 30, 1989, or their surviving spouses or domestic partners, will be allowed to remain in their apartments for three years, but then may be required to move to another University apartment.