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The Graying of Academia

In an article for the Boston Globe, Marcella Bombardieri commented in the graying of U.S. academia and the insuing debate over the need to retain brilliance and the need to bring in new blood and fresh ideas (see Graying of US Academia Stirs Debate).

In the article, Ms. Bombardieri notes that the proportion of faculty aged 70 and above at elite, research oriented institutions is growing at a marked rate; but notes nationally, the percentage of faculty in this age bracket is just over two percent. Is this an issue for students?

When I look around my department, my old department now since I've finally graduated, I note that few of the faculty are younger than 50 and most hit the 60+ age bracket. But these men and women are active researchers and entirely on top of their game. They have a brilliance and a boat-load of experience that would be hard to match; and, as a student (or former student), I feel that interaction with these great minds is a tremendous opportunity.

Of course, I've seen many a faculty member shift quikly to retirement, leave the department due to health concerns, and several have even passed on during my tenure with the university. Admittedly, this kind of activity tends to leave holes in the program--some of which may be fairly difficult to fill. But I think that's part of the price you pay to have access to quality, learned staff.

Did I ever worry that the older faculty were so grounded in their individual perspectives that they couldn't see the value of newer research? Sometimes. Was I concerned that I would miss out on the opportunity to learn new and fresh materials? Hmmm, sometimes. Did I ever feel that a younger, fresher faculty would be able to bring something new and better to the programm? Yes and no. If my program had some sort of apprenticeship program where young faculty were paired with an older, tenured mentor, I would say yes. If young faculty were simply tossed into a classroom and given free rein, I would say no. Some graduate schools are beginning to integrate classroom teaching, adult instructional methods and basic pedagogy into the curriculum; but, most still aren't there yet. I've been in a classroom with a brand new professor who had no teaching skills/experience. It wasn't at all pretty--for anyone.

Perhaps whether or not the "graying of academia" is an issue is simply a matter of perspective. Something to think about...

What are your thoughts on the subject? Is the graying of academia an issue? Share your perspective in the Graduate School Forum.

Until next time!

Lynn Byrnne

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