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Top NDSU officials content to keep jobs: Retirements a concern for university system

North Dakota State University President Joseph Chapman reacts to the notion of retirement like a cat to water - he avoids it. "I don't even know what retirement age is anymore," the 62-year-old said.

North Dakota State University President Joseph Chapman reacts to the notion of retirement like a cat to water - he avoids it.

"I don't even know what retirement age is anymore," the 62-year-old said. "It's just not part of my vocabulary."

However, retirement is an issue that NDSU and other state higher education institutions will be addressing more in the coming years.

In a report presented to the state Board of Higher Education in April, the North Dakota University System identified aging faculty and staff as a statewide concern.

The report found that in 2002-03, nearly half of all faculty members and one-third of staff employees were age 50 or older. Twelve percent of faculty members were over age 60.


The university system will have a "significant number" of faculty and staff positions to fill in the next decade, the report said.

"When the baby boomers came through, a lot of faculty were hired to accommodate them," said Michel Hillman, the system's vice chancellor for academic and student affairs. "Now, a lot of those faculty that were hired are reaching retirement age."

That's the case at NDSU.

NDSU brass stay put

The announcement earlier this month that one of Chapman's cabinet members is retiring raises the question: Who's next?

Patricia Jensen, vice president and dean of the College of Agriculture, Food Systems and Natural Resources since 1997, announced July 9 she will retire Dec. 31 for personal reasons and to pursue her interest in food safety.

Like Chapman, Jensen was born in 1942. So were two other NDSU vice presidents: Craig Schnell in academic affairs and Phil Boudjouk in research, creative activities and technology transfer.

Vice President for Student Affairs George Wallman was born a year earlier, while Richard Rayl, vice president for finance and business, and Keith Bjerke, vice president for university relations, were born in 1939.


But, other than Jensen, none of them plans to retire soon, they said.

Chapman was the most emphatic, saying he has "no interest in retiring whatsoever."

This fall, NDSU is expected to exceed the goals Chapman laid out five years ago, such as having 12,000 students and more than $100 million in annual research spending.

Chapman said he's looking forward to setting goals for the next five years during his State of the University address Oct. 19.

"We're just hitting our stride," he said.

Rayl, who celebrated his 65th birthday July 5, said the construction boom on campus and additional research dollars flowing into the university have made his job more interesting than ever.

"There comes a time when you quit having as much fun as I'm having, but these past few years have been great," he said.

Wallman also said he's having "too much fun" to retire.


"In the 30 years I've been here, this is the most exciting time period I've had," he said. "And I don't mean that as a negative toward the other presidents, but a lot of things have come together under Chapman that are just fun to be a part of."

Schnell jokingly pointed out that while he, Chapman, Jensen and Boudjouk were all born in the same year, he is the youngest.

"I'm only 61," he said. "All the rest of them are 62."

Working longer

By choosing to keep working, Chapman and his cabinet are contributing to a growing segment of the NDSU population.

The percentage of NDSU employees age 60 to 67 who hold academic rank increased from 9.5 percent in 1999 to 16 percent this year, according to the university's Office of Institutional Research and Analysis.

However, the average age of the faculty at NDSU has remained constant in the past five years, at 48 years old. The percentage of those age 26 to 39 has increased 4 percent as new faculty have been hired to replace retirees.

Jensen is one of at least three high-ranking NDSU officials to retire or announce plans to step down during the past year.


NDSU Extension Service Director Sharon Anderson retired Dec. 31. Jay Leitch, dean of the College of Business Administration, is retiring but has agreed to stay on until NDSU hires his replacement.

Leitch has said he plans to take a year off and return as a part-time faculty member, which is becoming more common among retirees, Schnell said.

To soften the blow of retirements, campuses have reallocated dollars to offer more competitive salaries when trying to recruit new faculty and reduce turnover, Hillman said. Faculty turnover fell from 8.2 percent in 1996-97 to 6.7 percent in 2002-03.

However, North Dakota still ranked 49th in the nation in faculty pay in 1999-2000, the most recent ranking available.

"Obviously, we've still got a ways to go, but at least we've got it headed in the right direction," Hillman said.

Different mindset

Since the mandatory retirement age for faculty members expired in 1993, two schools of thought have emerged about retirement, said Sandra Holbrook, equal opportunity director at NDSU.

Some faculty members, such as Jensen, want to retire early and move on to the next chapter of their lives, Holbrook said.


Others feel they are in good enough health and enjoy their jobs, so they want to keep working.

The economic dip after 9/11 affected retirement accounts, and that also may be contributing to some people working longer, she said.

"I think there's less and less talk about a traditional retirement age, and there's a 20- or 30-year span" in which people choose to retire, she said.

An over-60 employee herself, Holbrook said she also has no plans to retire.

"It feels funny when people start scoping you, thinking, 'Hmm, I wonder how much longer she's going to be around?' " she said, laughing.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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