Why I ... recommend semi-retirement

April 27, 2001

As the nights grow longer and the prostate region begins to creak, many of us look enthusiastically at early retirement. In my own case, the prospect of turning into a man of leisure was somewhat frightening after 30 years in the business studies department. The college authorities were helpful, allowing me to move onto a fractional employment contract rather than consigning me to a life of enforced idleness in the local public library.

One year on, I can say that the reduction in my hours has had mixed blessings. I have been able to retain my enthusiasm instead of labouring on full-time with less energy and spirit to cope with college life. Today, there are few hiding places for those with an increasing need to catnap in the afternoon during a run of second-year seminars. In the past, such old-timers were given a degree of respect and protection as they calculated their additional pension contributions and Saga holiday opportunities. Allowing us to play a positive, if reduced, role means that our experience is still on tap.

At a personal level, I have returned to the classroom and pastoral activities and moved away from the self-importance and political bargaining of university committees. I can now reflect on days spent in meetings, with passions rising and blood on the walls, for decisions that ultimately changed very little, and on life as a senior manager, spent dealing with administrative matters.

One particular colleague normally entered my office at a gallop with his trademark assertion: "We're in deep **** this time." Most of the time I quickly corrected the plurality of this assertion, but I can guess that he is now piling up the excrement at someone else's door.

With fewer administrative duties, I have time to prepare classes more thoroughly. A recent view of the CVs of younger colleagues with excellent research outputs demonstrated (belatedly) to me the high cost of course and divisional management roles. Many full-time colleagues face increasing pressures to hit severe student target numbers, involving considerable vacation attendance and worries.

There are drawbacks. At times I miss the buzz, the adrenaline bucket of concerns, as vetting panels pored over our hastily constructed submission documents. The timespan between being a key team member to becoming yesterday's man is short and brutal. I still feel guilty when playing golf, imagining my colleagues engaged in mass timetabling meetings, moving classes out of the second-floor toilets.

On a practical level, there is a real possibility of being shipped down to the joys of an office in the basement. Also, one's longevity and experience may not be enough to avoid the annual cull of car parking spaces and life on the District Line.

In academic terms, there is a danger that more time spent preparing classes will lead to bombarding students with enough handouts to submerge even the most robust of Safeway's carrier bags.

Some lessons are hard learnt. It is vital that invitations to attend urgent meetings on free days be resisted, despite the temptations to show commitment. I have also learnt that it is easier to shrug off lingering obligations if the change is made at the end of the academic year, instead of halfway through. Organisation is important, to ensure that days off can be usefully employed, by having the right books and work at home at the right time.

Generally, however, my arrangement, which includes an adequate pension entitlement, has generally meant a more balanced life, with more time for grandchildren, hobbies and some research activities, and enough opportunity to continue to try to make a full and positive contribution to college life.

John Lloyd is principal lecturer in economics, South Bank University, London.

To comment on any issue raised, email us at soapbox@thes.co.uk


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