Published Jan 1, 2008 8:00 AM
Baby Boomer UCLA faculty are retiring by the hundreds and a new generation of scholars will take their place. Who are they, where will they come from, and what will it take to keep them here? Those questions are being tackled with urgency across the campus. At stake is UCLA's ability to remain one of the world's great public universities.
In science and engineering, a "grand challenge" refers to any complex and wide-ranging problem that can be solved through cutting-edge techniques and resources. Now UCLA and other universities across the country face their own grand challenge, and it's a daunting one: replacing a huge wave of retiring Baby Boomer professors.
A slew of scholars in American universities was hired in the 1960s and 1970s to teach the Boomer generation. Now those professors are in their 60s and 70s. In 1989-'90, when researchers at UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute began conducting triennial surveys of faculty ages nationwide, one-quarter of all faculty on U.S. campuses were 55 years or older. By 2004-'05, 37 percent were seniors. By contrast, only 31 percent of U.S. faculty were less than 44 years old in 2004-'05, compared with 41 percent in 1989-'90.
Although federal legislation in 1994 outlawed mandatory retirement at age 70, many, if not most, of these professors are likely to opt out of full-time teaching. As of last March, nearly 30 percent of UCLA faculty were more than 60 years old, and 378 have retired in the past decade. In the next five years, another 200 to 300 faculty members are likely to retire.
The search for a new generation of campus leaders is no academic exercise. At stake is UCLA's ability to stay at the top of the list of the world's great institutions.
Last November, in his first address to the Academic Senate's legislative assembly since he took UCLA's helm in August 2007, Chancellor Gene Block made it clear that in the coming year the campus leadership will develop a "smart" academic plan to guide the university's course over the next two decades. Block emphasized that the university's plan would begin with a mission statement leading to "where we want to go and what's necessary to get there."