Reminiscences and Parting Remarks:
Some Thoughts on Retirement
—Orin Chein, Professor of Mathematics, CST
From time to time, I have noticed that a faculty colleague whom I used to see has seemed to disappear, and I have wondered whether he or she has left Temple or has simply ceased to be visibly active. It has long been the custom (at least in CAS and now in CST) that new faculty members are introduced at a collegial assembly, and I thought it would be nice if we also bid farewell to faculty who are leaving. I suggested this to both Dean Dai and to Senate President Turner. They both liked the idea and said they would implement it this year. But my “reward” for making this suggestion is that I have been asked to write this article for the Faculty Herald.
I have decided to use this opportunity to reminisce about my experience at Temple and offer some thoughts on what I would like to see for Temple’s future.
I came here in July of 1968, fresh from receiving my doctorate at NYU. Although I had several other offers at the time, I “chose” Temple, and I have never regretted the decision. At the discussion of Quality of Life issues during the January meeting of the Representative Faculty Senate, several people voiced the concern that Temple can be unwelcoming to new faculty members. This was not my experience. Long before my official arrival, one of my then future (now current) colleagues invited my wife and me to visit, and he showed us around the various neighborhoods so we could look for a suitable place to live. After my arrival, I always felt welcome to approach my department chair or other colleagues to ask about procedures, policy, opportunities, etc. I was given some choice in what I was supposed to teach, and the departmental committees on which I wanted to serve. I was allowed, during my first year at Temple, to develop two new courses, one undergraduate and one beginning graduate, both of which eventually became requirements in their respective curricula. I was told that, if I published, I would be given tenure and promoted to Associate Professor after only three years, and indeed that occurred, in accordance with my department’s practice at the time. Partly as a result of the race for space, and partly as a result of the development of a doctoral program, it was a period of rapid expansion for the Mathematics Department. Between 1966 and 1972, more than 20 new tenure track faculty members were added to the department, more than doubling its size. Most of us were relatively fresh Ph.D.s of approximately the same age. It was a very social group, and we not only gathered now and then for parties at each others’ houses, but, weather permitting, we had a regular Sunday morning football game, in which some of our students, both undergraduate and graduate, participated. This lasted for many years, until, little by little, family responsibilities and physical injuries finally ended the practice. For a number of years, one of my math colleagues and I used to carpool with someone from another department who would constantly tell us about the infighting and backstabbing that took place in his home department. This was never the situation in Mathematics.
I have seen many changes during my life at Temple. Overall, students were reasonably good when I first came here, not outstanding, for the most part, but teachable. Then, (I don’t recall exactly when it started, or ended for that matter, but I believe it was related to an effort to increase, or at least maintain enrollments), the quality of students deteriorated significantly. Some were barely capable of learning anything. Fortunately, the trend was reversed and, currently, our average student (whatever that means) is on a par with and maybe slightly better than the students I first taught.
Over the years, there have been many changes in the curriculum: Basic Studies, distribution requirements, the Core and now General Education. I am a strong believer in a broad undergraduate education, and, if it were up to me, we would return to the days of “distribution requirements.” By the time they graduate, students should be introduced to a wide variety of subjects. Unfortunately, although there may be much to be said for GenEd, I feel that the spectrum is not broad enough and that many of the courses are too focused on marketability rather than on the basics of their disciplines.
For the most part, I feel that the university has treated me well throughout my career. Of course, I would not have complained if we were paid more, but I have generally been pleased with the benefits we received. (However, see my closing remarks below.) In addition to receiving early tenure (which relieved many of the anxieties I might otherwise have had), I have received many units of merit during the course of my career. And I have usually felt appreciated by most of my colleagues, both within and outside of the Mathematics Department. In addition, whenever I applied for one, I received a Research and Study Leave or a Summer Research Award, and I have had many opportunities to travel.
I have also been given the opportunity to take a leadership role – at the department, the college and, to a lesser extent, even at the university levels. Although I agree that research and teaching are the most important functions of a faculty member, I also believe that faculty should lead the University academically, so that service is important as well. During my 42 years at Temple, I have served on almost every committee that exists in the department and the college, and I have served on many different Senate committees as well. I like to be involved in things, and the many committees on which I willingly served have provided me with a varied and exciting opportunity to do so. I have chaired the Mathematics Department, been President of the CAS Collegial Assembly and served on the Faculty Senate Steering Committee. I have also directed the CAS Teaching Improvement Center and the Faculty Teaching Fellows Program. I mention these service opportunities for two reasons – first, because I want to emphasize how I found this a rewarding part of my employment at Temple and to urge others to take a more active role, and, second, because it relates to a question that I will address below.
But teaching has always been my real vocational passion in life. When I was in high school, I used to tutor other students. During my career, I created several courses which have remained part of our curriculum. In 1995, I was fortunate enough to be selected as one of the recipients of the Temple University Great Teacher Awards. After I retire, I plan to continue tutoring, as the opportunity presents itself.
I have been asked by many of my colleagues, why I want to retire now, when I am only 66. The answer is fairly complicated, but, in one short sentence, I would say, “I’m tired.” Physically tired, tired of the self-imposed pressure to continue to develop my teaching and to be productive in my research, and tired of fighting against autocratic administrators. (Note that I made the decision to retire a number of years ago, before the current administration.) When our 2004 contract instituted a “Transition to Retirement” policy, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity. I would have preferred a five year transition, but I was not given a choice. Once I signed the papers in December 2007, I was committed. Had I known then of the changes that would take place in the administration at the University, the College and the Department level, I might have waited a bit longer, but I am not unhappy with my decision.
The other question I am often asked is “What will I do when I retire?” My pat answer is “Sleep”, but even though I am not teaching any courses this semester, I seem to be just as busy as I have always been. I am still working on my research; I have joined a gym, which I attend about four days a week; and I have all kinds of projects around the house, and I have spent an inordinate amount of time this winter shoveling snow and cutting up fallen tree limbs. I am also doing some volunteer work, and my wife and I plan to travel, something we have always done, but now we can travel in the off season, when the prices are not as high and the weather is not as extreme. In any case, I don’t think that you have seen the last of me around Temple. Next year, I plan to spend a few hours a week at the MSRC, tutoring students in advanced Mathematics Courses. (Such tutoring is not currently available.) I have also inquired whether a Professor Emeritus is allowed to serve on a Senate Committee. I have not yet received an answer, but, if the answer is “Yes”, I might even agree to serve on some committee that does not meet too often.
I would like to end this letter with some suggestions to the Administration. I won’t suggest that they should increase faculty salaries, lower workloads and increase the number of tenure track lines, although it would be wonderful if they could do that, but I do have some comments with respect to some current policies and fringe benefits.
1. I think it is unconscionable that the University stopped providing post-retirement health benefits for recently hired faculty. I understand that this is a very expensive benefit, but, until this country has universal health coverage, employers have a responsibility to care for the needs of their loyal employees. I don’t know how this should be funded, but there must be a way to do so. Possibly increase the number of years that an employee must be at Temple before the benefit kicks in. Maybe the amount that employees must pay into the system while they are working should increase. But the option of receiving this benefit must be provided. (The benefit should include not only medical, but dental, prescription, and vision coverage as well.)
2. Tuition remission benefits at a reasonable level (that increases with inflation) should be available for faculty children to attend not only Temple but other schools as well.
3. More money must be available for faculty to attend professional conferences. Not only should it be easier for faculty to be approved to attend such conferences, but the amount of money that they receive for doing so should not be restricted by caps that are ridiculously low. If there must be caps, they should be set at levels that cover the bulk of reasonable costs of attendance, and they too should increase with inflation.
4. Extend “Transition to Retirement” to up to five years.
5. Curricular decisions should be left in the hands of the faculty. Administrators may provide guidance and/or suggestions, but the curriculum must ultimately be the faculty’s domain.
6. When engaged in contract negotiations, Temple must be careful to be scrupulously honest in their public announcements.
7. A way must be found for the administration to encourage and recognize significant faculty service. Although this may be difficult to administer, one suggestion is that a “brownie point” system might be devised to award faculty a number of points commensurate with the amount of effort they expend in serving on a committee. When a faculty member accrues a certain number of points, he or she should receive a teaching load reduction. Points might be accrued for other activities, such as attending teaching improvement seminars, as well.
8. CATES and other Teaching evaluations should only be used as formative, not as summative instruments. I served on the Faculty Senate Steering Committee when the institution of CATES was approved, but we did so only with the explicit promise from the President and the Provost that they would not be used summatively. Yet, the reality has become that not only are they being used in contravention of this promise, but, in some cases, the entire form is boiled down to a single number. This is ludicrous.
9. The University and its arms should make every effort to become cognizant of the major religious holidays and of the ways in which they are observed, and they should be careful to avoid scheduling significant events that conflict with these observances. Care should be taken to avoid scheduling events on days in which work or travel is restricted. For example, although I have been eligible for the past 17 years to attend the 25-year Club dinner, I have never been able to attend because the dinner is always held on a Saturday night after the clock changes in the Spring, and it always begins long before the Jewish Sabbath ends at that time of year.
10. The Administration should consider reinstituting such programs as Freshman Interdisciplinary Studies and the Teaching Fellows Program. The former was a wonderful experience for students and faculty alike, and the latter provided an opportunity for relatively new faculty members to spend time developing a course they would like to offer and to improve their teaching skills.