Looking ahead to retirement

It helps to know a couple of years ahead if a colleague is planning to retire, as the department can begin to think about the proposal for refilling the position, and you can then be sure to complete your proposal in a timely way, for a seamless transition. But asking a colleague about retirement plans can require sensitivity. You certainly do not want to convey any kind of pressure. In most cases, the information will come to you in the natural course of conversation.

The details of timing of retirement are worked out between the retiree and the Dean of the College, who will consult with the chair as needed. Some faculty members may be interested in a phased retirement plan, and should consult with the Dean regarding options. The retiree should also talk with the Director of Human Resources for issues regarding benefits after retirement.

See the next section of this Guide on "Planning a Retirement Celebration" for help on the arrangements.

Involvement in the department after retirement

Emeriti faculty can be a great resource for the department. Some retirees look forward to some teaching (on a visiting basis), and this can be a significant help to the department. (If they continue teaching, the college will find some kind of office space for them.)  Sometimes there is other work for the college where they can help out; e.g., administrative work, running science labs. Above and beyond such specific help, emeriti faculty are a source of wisdom and sociability. Include them in the academic and social life of the department as appropriate (e.g., departmental colloquia, dinner with visiting speakers, departmental parties). If you have a problem in the department where the perspective of someone with the long view would help, consider retirees as one of your potential sources for advice.

Planning a retirement celebration

The retirement of a colleague is a significant event-in the life of the individual retiring, to be sure, but also in the life of the department and the college. It is the custom at Cornell to have a celebratory event in honor of retiring faculty. It is an important responsibility of the chair to make this an event that suitably recognizes the contributions of one's colleague to the life of the college. Here's a guide to the fairly complex choreography, which you may have to do only once (or never) in your years as chair.

The first step is to speak with the retiree, in order to determine their wishes for the events and to anticipate a date. The usual arrangement is to hold an all-campus reception on the OC or Bracket House, followed by a faculty dinner in the Thomas Commons, where the faculty member is presented with "Recollections" by students and colleagues, and the gift of a rocking chair or side chair. However, the retiree might prefer a smaller gathering, wish to meet off-campus, or have an altogether different celebration in mind. Furthermore, the department might wish to host an art show, a symposium, a musical performance, or some other event in honor of the retiree as part of the celebration. In any event, the Office of Academic Affairs can provide support as you plan, and should be consulted early.  Here are the main tasks involved:

  • Speak early with the person retiring to firm up the date and place, and to learn about their vision of the event.

  • Customarily, an important object at the retirement party, an object then given to the retiring faculty member, is a notebook full of recollections about this person from former students and colleagues. If this option seems fitting, request from the Alumni Office a list of your alumni/ae majors from the years the retiree has taught at Cornell. (Be sure to ask that the list include unmarried as well as married names.) Ask the retiree for names of other former students (not only majors) who were significant in their career. Write these students, as well as any former colleagues no longer at Cornell, asking them to send in letters. Ask Alumni for help with the mailing (address labels, etc.) Be prepared to remind faculty colleagues of the deadline for submitting contributions.

  • Ask whether h/she would like the customary Cornell chair (choice of rocking or side chair), and notify the Assistant Dean.

  • Reserve the locations.

  • Arrange with AV for a microphone to be in the room and possibly on the OC.

  • Line up the speakers and emcees for the reception and dinner. This is perhaps the most important part of the event. You want a range of people who know the retiree well, in a variety of capacities. Do consider the Dean as one of the speakers, as he/she has an important voice to offer from the institution as a whole-the retiree has not just been a member of the department. You may also consider former students. Make a tentative list and then ask the retiree him/herself how this looks, or for other suggestions on who knows them best. You'll want about 4-5 people, speaking for perhaps 2-5 minutes each.

  • Order the food from Cornell Dining Services. They have a catering list that will give you an overview of the different items available and their prices. Typically, guests pre-pay for their own dinners, indicating a choice of entrees (if available) when they RSVP to invitations.

  • The Dean's Office will work with the Office of College Communications to send out dinner invitations: you will want to work with the person retiring to prepare the list.

  • Plan for a gift from the current members of the department. If you've had to dig into your own pockets for the rocking or side chair, it can be that. It's nice to have some lasting token of the department's farewell.

The emeriti citation to be read at commencement

This is another very important public moment for the retiree, and whatever you write also goes into the permanent record of the faculty. You can request samples from previous retirements from the Office of Academic Affairs. Ask the retiree for a full curriculum vitae, so you have a view of his/her whole career.