Some profs are like fine wines

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

April 12, 2007 Ed Cartoon

As of December, mandatory retirement was abolished in Ontario. In the context of education, the decision carries potentially debatable results.

While teaching in a university setting doesn’t require many physical capabilities, a professor’s mental faculties should be razor-sharp. Mental competency is something that, like physical capabilities, erodes over time in elderly people. Hence, there should be some way to evaluate teaching skills in aging professors.

That said, it’s a human rights violation to tell people when to retire and professors have a right to work like everyone else. Professors must work for years to build their credentials and must work even longer to achieve tenure and reach the top of their craft. It seems unfair to demand a professor retire at 65 years old if they’ve taken until age 50 to achieve elite status and levels of research in their discipline.

It also can’t be overlooked that an older professor brings experience and wisdom to the table that younger people can’t provide. It’s important to remember that each person’s mental acuity erodes at a different pace " some people remain incredibly sharp into their eighties.

However, while many professors peak in their later years, tenure can be problematic because it makes a teacher virtually indestructible; people’s skills do gradually diminish with age and professors can’t teach and study forever. Perhaps removing tenure at a certain set age would rectify this problem.

One solution could be creating standardized evaluations for professors over a certain age, much like the system used when seniors renew their driver’s licenses. But such an approach might insult many highly motivated, capable senior professors. Obviously, some form of evaluation is prudent " if not a standardized test, perhaps assessing professors’ contributions on a case-by-case basis.

Perhaps lost in the translation of this issue are the student evaluations given to professors. They too provide an accurate account of the calibre of instruction students receive in the classroom, and don’t discriminate " professors of all ages are rated using the same scale. If administrators think standardized testing is too intrusive for aging professors, one would hope student evaluations could be sufficient to identify professors whose faculties are slipping.

There are plenty of reasons to dislike professors that have nothing to do with age. So long as students’ grading of professors is weighted heavily in the deliberation process, it might be enough to ensure high-calibre teaching.

Most importantly, students commit a ton of resources to attending school and deserve the highest quality of instruction. If certain older professors can still provide this high level of service, they have every right to continue teaching.

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