How do professors deal with retirement?

Retired : It's not over yet

"For me, the senior professorship was very lucky," says Volker Gerhardt. He is 76 and joined the Humboldt University (HU) in Berlin in 1992 as a professor of practical philosophy. For many years he was director of the Institute for Philosophy. In 2012 his time as a full professor ended. Nevertheless, Gerhard was able to stay at the HU and the institute. As a senior professor, he now gives two events per semester, a lecture and a proseminar.

The senior professorship is a special distinction because not every professor can count on such a position when he retires. In 2017, according to a survey by the German University Association (DHV), around 50 senior professors were employed in Berlin, divided between the three state institutions that manage the relevant positions: the Charité, the Free University and the Humboldt University. But not all senior professorships are the same (see box). "In Berlin there is no senior professorship in the state university law," explains Sven Hendricks, legal advisor for university and civil service law in the university association: "Whether, for what purpose and in what form senior professorships are introduced is a matter for the individual university."

He still works scientifically today and supervises projects

Volker Gerhardt has been active in science since 1975, to this day he works in various scientific academies and oversees two large edition projects. He accepted the offer, also because discussions and exchanges with the students always helped him to familiarize himself with new topics, he says. As a senior professor, he now enjoys greater freedom in terms of subject matter than before: “With my main focus areas, I no longer have to pay attention to the examination requirements in my teaching and can concentrate on both general and highly specific aspects,” he says. That is a gain.

The senior professorship is one of several ways in which professors in Berlin can continue to work at the university even after the age limit of 65 years. Because every Emeritus and Emerita are allowed to offer seminars and give lectures. The Venia Legendi, the academic license to teach, lasts for a lifetime. "This principle is restricted by different conditions depending on the country," emphasizes Justiziar Hendricks. If there is a shortage of space, events by employees usually have priority, and the inspection authorization is often restricted or subject to conditions. In Berlin, an emeritus or emerita is no longer a member of the university. "This can bring basic, but all the more serious obstacles to further academic work, such as problems with the use of the university library," says Hendricks.

These problems are circumvented with a senior professorship. In addition, it enables the university to renew itself: unlike a service extension that allows a professorship to continue for up to three years after retirement age, when a senior professorship is accepted after retirement, the full professorship becomes vacant again - and can be filled again become. "A service extension also means that you continue to have full service obligations," emphasizes Hendricks. The senior professorship, on the other hand, can be designed flexibly. Content preferences, for example whether you want to teach or delve into your own research without being disturbed, can also be taken into account.

He was asked, he said yes

"I have not influenced the negotiation of my senior professorship in 2012 or the annual extensions," says Gerhardt. At that time, his colleagues asked him if he wanted to take on a senior professorship and thus two events per semester. He said yes, some time later the approval of the presidium was received.

"The proposal for a senior professorship, which is usually an appreciation of special professional and institutional merits, mostly comes from the respective department," confirms Hendricks. The decision is then usually made by several university committees, in the end the university board has to decide, the financial aspect also plays a role.

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You don't apply for a senior professorship, the position is brought up to someone. It is all the more important, if you are aiming for a senior professorship, to position yourself at an early stage and to express your interests among colleagues, advises Hendricks, and to find out about the possibilities and models at your own university. The best contact person can usually be found in the personnel administration of the universities themselves. Hendricks also offers weekly consultation hours.

However, a senior professorship does not bring major financial gains. If the position is remunerated, it is usually no more than the range between pension and last salary. If the new remuneration and pension go beyond this, the pension is usually reduced accordingly.

Gerhardt gets along well with his colleagues. On his days at university, he shares the office with his successor. There he can give office hours, take exams and also rely on the help of the chair secretary. The good relationship is motivating: he actually only wanted to remain a senior professor until he was 75, he says. Then he extended it again. His colleagues suggested it when they heard of his plans.

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