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Administrators should pay attention to this fast-growing group: university retirees

Retired faculty and staff stay active in their communities and contribute to their institutions in many ways.

BY ROBERT MORRISON | NOV 03 2020

University retirees form a group that is growing fast and positioned to help universities in many ways. The College and University Retirees Association of Canada/Association des retraités des universités et collèges du Canada (CURAC/ARUCC) is a not-for-profit federation of retiree associations (RAs) at colleges and universities across Canada. It represents some 40 organizations with more than 15,000 individual members. It is managed by a volunteer board of directors. While some member RAs are for retired faculty only, the majority are open to both faculty and staff. Most are affiliated with universities.

University retirees, whether faculty or staff, are moving into a new life stage with energy and enthusiasm. They look forward to several decades of good health, and are keen on promoting the interests of seniors and of higher education. They enjoy social contact. They want to participate and contribute. Active in their communities, they are often opinion leaders as well as ambassadors for their institutions.

RAs embody a broad base of academic expertise and staff experience. Members are wise elders, an important source of independent views about higher education. They represent the collective memory of their institutions. Research at a number of Canadian and American universities reveals similar patterns of ongoing involvement.

Members of the 2019-20 board of CURAC at a meeting, pre-pandemic.

Between one-third and one-half of retired faculty and senior administrators remain active in their profession, serving on professional boards and committees, conducting and reporting on research at conferences, editing and writing books, and editing and writing for journals, adding to the university’s professional reputation. Many continue teaching, presenting guest lectures and seminars, contributing to popular media, obtaining grants, running laboratories, serving on committees and task forces, and supervising graduate students. Retirees contribute to fundraising campaigns and are themselves a potential source of future donations and legacies. Other direct contributions to their institutions include mentoring students and younger faculty, participating as volunteers at convocations and student orientations, and contributing to life-long learning programs, as well as assisting in student recruitment and retention activities.

In short, RAs play an important role in the continued involvement of retired faculty and staff in their academic communities, helping to make retirement an attractive option. Among other contributions, RAs help their members to keep up to date. CURAC/ARUCC has set up two new ad hoc committees, one to see how technology can help to facilitate communications among member RAs, the other to look at opportunities for lifelong learning and active aging. Many RAs have close ties with alumni programs.

Retirees are thus a major asset for their universities and their ranks are growing. It pays to keep them active and engaged. The activities of RAs are substantially enhanced when they have a positive relationship with their institutions, including in-kind and financial support.

Some successful ways of ensuring that retirees are engaged with the campus:

  • Keep retirees in the loop: provide information about developments, invite them to events, and encourage participation in the affairs of the university.
  • Maintain access to university e-mail and other information platforms.
  • Accommodate retirees’ needs for access to meeting rooms, parking, libraries, athletic facilities, etc.
  • Hold regular meetings between RAs and the university, e.g. once a year with the provost, and sponsorship by the president or provost of RA events, Christmas parties, etc. In some universities, the president invites the local RA to an annual reception.
  • Make information available about recent retirees and help new retirees to learn about the RA. This an area of concern, as privacy policies make it difficult for RAs to get access to lists of potential members.

The recent emergence of emeritus colleges as full participants in the life of the university, exemplified by the Emeritus College at the University of British Columbia, is a promising form of engagement.

The work of CURAC/ARUCC

CURAC/ARUCC operates committees that monitor and report on pensions and benefits affecting members, contribute to discussions on issues of public concern, and maintain relations with other like-minded organizations. It operates a website, www.curac.ca, and publishes newsletters and short reports on topics of interest such as medications and older persons, social isolation, age-friendly communities, and palliative care.

CURAC/ARUCC promotes dialogue among member associations and the continuing involvement of member RAs with their host institutions. It cooperates with other organizations to seek action by governments on priority issues such as national pharmacare, income security for seniors, and a national seniors’ strategy.

CURAC/ARUCC hosts a national conference each year at a different institution. Due to the coronavirus, the 2020 conference at UBC was postponed and the 2021 conference at McGill was cancelled. McGill will go ahead with a much shortened virtual gathering. Future conferences are planned for UBC (2022) and UPEI (2023).

CURAC/ARUCC brings benefits to its members. Some come from the host university, such as access to facilities, others from commercial firms in areas such as travel and insurance. Members have taken a number of international tours together.

At the local level, RA activities span a wide range, depending on the interests of the individual members. Many are social: outings to local attractions or cultural events, dinner with speakers or panels, support for scholarships, updates on pensions, attendance at university events. At a Carleton University outing pre-pandemic, called Bones and Beer, members did a tour of Canada’s national cemetery, Beechwood, followed by lunch at a local microbrewery.

CURAC/ARUCC and members of your local RA would be pleased to provide more information to university administrators and readers of University Affairs about their activities and the benefits that retirees can bring to the university.

Robert Morrison is a CURAC board member. He can be reached at robertmorrison@rogers.com.

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  1. Mary Valentich / November 4, 2020 at 13:29

    I agree that “retirees”, a term I do not use, provide much useful work and continue to make their faculties and universities known as contributors. One of the most annoying aspects for me is that parking on the University of Calgary campus is now not complimentary for emeriti/ae, but is a taxable benefit which we are obliged to report. Further, we are restricted to certain lots, usually after 3.30 pm. That means that we are less likely to be able to meet with colleagues during the regular work day. I find these requirement s offensive, as I and many of my colleagues are still positively contributing not only to the university but the wider community. I do not think our use of the occasional parking spot “takes away” from full-time faculty and staff members spaces. Further, I believe this is not a universal requirement across Canada, unless matters have changed in the last few years.

  2. Dr. Carole-Lynne LE NAVENEC / November 4, 2020 at 15:54

    Merci for the informative, concise yet precise overview of the many and varied contributions of University Faculty who are now on Long Term Sabbatical (or what others refer to as Retirees). I suggest that there be a little column in each issue of UA/AU . Perhaps you could call it: Greetings from your University & College Retiree Association Colleagues.