(Pix LarryCatá Backer 2016)
It is something of a national trend among American universities to offer variations of a standard form of "early retirement program," loosely modeled on those quite common in industry. A recent article in University Business nicely lays out the context and the economic politics of the tactic:
It’s an increasingly common move by campus officials during challenging economic times: voluntary retirement. Offering these incentives to faculty and staff provides a ready means of reducing personnel costs while not being seen as severe and traumatic as layoffs, salary reductions, and furloughs tend to be.This post considers the trend from the perspective of its collateral effects--first on the way this tactic is used increasingly to systematize fundamental changes in institutional character and operation, and and second on the faculty tempted to take the university up on its offer (academic freedom, and political rights). The "bottom line" is simple enough to state and implicit in the University Business article: the voluntary retirement device is an excellent way for administrators to avoid responsibility for significant change (furthering the "blame the system" mentality that has become standardized in university administrative cultures), but in a way that presents significant traps for the faculty tempted to take the university up on its usually much less valuable than advertised benefit. Faculty should be wary about accepting such "benefits", university faculty senate's should take a more aggressive position in examining the institutional effects of these programs, and university administrators should be held to a higher degree of account for using this indirect lever to remake the institution in a manner to their liking.
Although the details of such plans vary from one college to the next, they all rest on the potential for shrinking the workforce during times of static or declining budgets.
Even where employees will be replaced, costs may be lowered by using part-timers or hiring less experienced full-time personnel. New employees may also come with less expensive benefit packages than those negotiated in earlier eras. (Mark Rowh, Retiring Minds Want to Know How institutions are making voluntary retirement programs work University Business (July/August 2012))