After considerable thought, I have decided to accept a retirement package offered to senior faculty members by the University of Toronto. By retiring at the end of this academic year (June 2020), I will receive a full year’s salary from July 2020 to June 2021. Technically, I will be on paid leave of absence during that period.
I had intended to work at least until my pension is maximized and I am required to receive it, both of which happen on December 1, 2020. The retirement package gets me to that milestone without my having to teach this fall and pays me another seven months’ salary without my having to teach next winter.
I am retiring with considerable satisfaction in my achievements, which include eleven books on which my name appears on the title page as author, co-author, or editor; over seventy articles or book chapters; a Google Scholar count approaching 5000; a strong teaching record, particularly in the last ten years; and service as founding chair of the Department of Management at University of Toronto Scarborough, which remains a lively and excellent academic program.
This summer and next academic year I hope to finish a book about contemporary political narratives that my wife and I are co-authoring. I expect this to be my last major academic work. If I follow through and do this, the year will be tantamount to a research leave, rather than a paid leave of absence.
Regardless, I will continue with the life of the mind, an intellectual life, and an examined life. Compared to full-time academic employment, in the future I want to spend more time reading, watching film, and attending performances and somewhat less time writing. The focus of my writing will be my blog, which enables me to express myself faster and more informally than in academic writing.
I now attend almost all the Metropolitan Opera’s Saturday Live in HD broadcasts. I have written blog posts about the contemporary relevance of several operas: Turandot as MeToo Disrupter, Tosca as MeToo heroine, and die Meistersinger as a study in leadership. Rather than just familiarizing myself with the plots beforehand, I want to spend the Friday before each opera studying it in more depth, and for that study to be reflected in my posts.
For the last few years I have been working through Duolingo’s Spanish grammar, as a late afternoon mental exercise. When classroom learning resumes, I want to take a course to sharpen my listening and speaking skills.
It is inauspicious to begin one’s retirement involuntarily behind a computer for much of the day, but I’m looking past the pandemic to the resumption of intellectual life in the classroom, lecture hall, and cinema.
The retirement package was offered early last December, before the virus was spawned in Wuhan’s wet market. But the pandemic has had an impact on my decision. Given today’s uncertainties, I would not look forward to classroom teaching next academic year. Even if the first wave of COVID – 19 abates, there is the possibility of another wave in the fall. I am 70 years old and have asthma (controlled by a small daily dose of an inhaled steroid, but asthma nonetheless). I may be advised to continue self-isolating into the fall, and I would not relish teaching under those circumstances.
The pandemic has led to a rapid shift to online teaching. My pedagogy, however, demands a great deal of student participation as I serve as the “guide on the side” rather than the “sage on the stage.” One-to-many lectures are relatively easy to replicate online, all-to-all discussions not so much.
Looking farther into the future, I am not very sanguine about what the academic world will look like post-pandemic. The expansion of health care spending and dramatically increased public debt-load will drive cuts in other areas of public spending, one of which I expect to be post-secondary education. The likely fall in the number of international students, who pay much higher tuition fees than Canadians, will exacerbate the universities’ budget problems. More teaching will be forced online, which doesn’t suit my pedagogy. The Ford Government, in last year’s budget, passed legislation that would authorize slashing the salaries of faculty members who are also drawing pensions. Regulations to do that have not yet been promulgated. In the future, they may be. (The University of Toronto’s retirement package can be seen as an attempt to achieve the Ford Government’s goal of faculty renewal using a carrot rather than a stick.)
I remember academic austerity during the waning years of the Rae Government (“Rae days”) and the Harris Government’s Common Sense Revolution. We looked beyond the bleak present towards a brighter future. I hope that is the spirit with which my younger colleagues will approach the post-pandemic academic world. However, this is not the climate in which I want to finish my academic career.
To quote the recently departed Kenny Rogers, “you’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em.” I’ve had a rewarding academic career, but it’s now time to fold ‘em.