With aging faculty, AHC prepares for high turnover

Nearly a third of AHC faculty is over 60.
November 10, 2011

About 33 percent of faculty in the Academic Health Center’s six schools will become eligible to retire in the next five years, if they haven’t already.

Deans and faculty members at the University of Minnesota have expressed concern for years about the aging faculty, said Terry Bock, AHC associate vice president. It’s a frequent topic when deans meet, particularly at annual budget meetings, he said.

In many health science schools, faculty shortages make attracting high-quality hires a rat race. With smaller benefit packages and a partial hiring freeze at the University caused by decreased state funding, educators and hiring officials in the AHC face a difficult problem.

In the Duluth branch of the University’s Medical School, for example, 70 percent of the faculty is age 60 or older. The school is scrambling to address the imminent possibility of a “large exit,” said James Carey, interim associate dean of faculty affairs for the Medical School.

“It’s a major concern to have that large of a turnover of their long-time faculty,” Carey said.

Jeff Ogden, the School of Dentistry’s head of human resources, said he will go the extra mile to recruit. He interviewed three prospective faculty members this week in a hotel near the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport for their convenience. He just managed last month to fill a seven-year vacancy for another faculty position.

“I don’t have an answer on how we replace faculty in this marketplace. I suppose one answer is to pay people more, but we don’t have the resources to do this,” he said.

The University is now dealing with a deflating workforce as the baby boomer generation rapidly ages, Bock said, leaving a gap in faculty experience.

In July, for example, a 40-year veteran of the University, Judith Garrard, stepped down from her administrative position in the School of Public Health to continue full time as a faculty member. Stepping back from her larger responsibilities was a first move in her journey to retirement.

“Each time we lose somebody, we lose a whole library of information,” Garrard said. “It’s both the knowledge they’ve gained through their own research and teaching but also knowledge of the culture of academia.”

While there are plenty of opportunities for students in public health to network and be mentored by faculty, similar relationships don’t exist for current faculty with their seniors in the SPH, Garrard said.

She’d like to see a “senior corps” established for her school — a corps of faculty emeriti who could act as resources for newer faculty.

“We’ve got to replace us,” said Barbara Brandt, associate vice president for education in the AHC. Brandt brings in millions of dollars in grant funding to the school, and is a professor in the College of Pharmacy.

One of the ways the AHC renews faculty ranks, she said, is through senior researchers taking on protégés and through reciprocal mentorship among all faculty.

Brandt said she’s been teaching the ropes to one of her staff members with one of her own grants for an Area Health Education Center, showing him how to manage the budget and keep up with a sticky web of federal regulations.

School of Nursing Dean Connie Delaney said she’s been encouraging mentoring as well, while “closely monitoring” the 35 percent of the school’s faculty — that’s 13 of 35 tenure or tenure track faculty — who are within five years of retirement age.

Two years ago, the nursing school set up a formal mentoring program, pairing each of its clinical faculty members with a more senior faculty member.

Joanne Disch, one of the nursing school’s most decorated faculty members, is leaving her position as director of the University’s Densford International Center for Nursing Leadership to focus on a prestigious new appointment.

As she prepares to leave, she’s taking her mentorship role seriously. She’s looked for faculty recruits in her area, formed a group dedicated to leadership and worked to mentor junior faculty.

The partnership has opened doors for her mentee Karen Dunlap, a nursing clinical assistant professor. Dunlap said she would never have known she was qualified to present her work at a conference without Disch’s encouragement.


A national trend

The AHC has replenished some of its faculty over the years. But for medical schools like the University branch in Duluth, it wasn’t enough, Carey said.

The school will plead its case before the state Legislature in the coming months and years to get more faculty hiring money, he said, but it’s unlikely the school will be able to replace tenure track faculty as they retire in the near future.

At this time, the Duluth school anticipates a number of vacancies in its epidemiology department. Temporary measures to hold off the faculty shortage include hiring more adjunct faculty, asking Twin Cities faculty to occasionally travel to Duluth and using distance learning technology, Carey said.

Not all AHC schools are faring as poorly. The College of Veterinary Medicine sits comparatively on the brighter end of the aging slide with 29 percent of its faculty nearing retirement age. 

Even so, Dean Trevor Ames said the school has several openings for tenure-track faculty. At least one of these, for an infectious disease specialist that studies swine, may be difficult to fill because of shortages in that specialty, he said.

Dentistry schools around the country face similar shortages, with 400 open faculty positions nationally at any given time, said Ogden, the School of Dentistry administrator.

These vacancies are only expected to increase, according to a survey of U.S. dental programs in the Journal of Dental Education.

Although there aren’t extreme shortages in the area of medicine, the Medical School at the Twin Cities campus currently has openings listed for 92 faculty positions, Carey said. Some of these may be duplicates or slight modifications for a single posting.


Preparing for retirement

Several years ago, the Office of Human Resources realized that aside from financial planning advice, there were few resources for counseling aging faculty members about life after retirement, said Mary Nichols, dean of the College of Continuing Education.

Andrea Gilats, a program director in CCE, had long been gathering data about boomers approaching retirement. With OHR’s support, she co-founded a course called the “Encore Transitions” program.

The workshops are open to faculty and staff at all levels and departments. The mission is to help faculty think about and plan for their transition into retirement.

Statistics show that people are living another 20 years after the traditional retirement age, Garrard said, so retirees have the opportunity to continue leading meaningful lives.

Many wrestle with what they’ll do when they’re not researching or working with students, Gerrard said.

“What are you going to do when you leave this environment? What do you do for intellectual stimulation?”

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