University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota Retirees Association
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University of Minnesota Retirees Association.


Retiree Activities

LINKS to Sections Below:

Synopsis of UMRA Activities
Photo Club
Book Club
President's Column

Synopsis of UMRA Activities

At monthly luncheons throughout the academic year, members renew long-standing friendships with former colleagues, make new acquaintances, and strengthen a sense of connection with the university community. Each month speakers from within and outside the university address a variety of scholarly, informative, and entertaining topics. Luncheons are currently held on the fourth Tuesday of the month at the Campus Club.

At a general luncheon meeting each spring, members elect association officers and conduct other business. Each year, UMRA invites new faculty and staff retirees to join the organization and seeks ways to encourage existing members to participate in association activities. Membership Form (Word document).

In addition to this website, UMRA publishes a monthly newsletter reporting on association activities and providing information on health care issues, alumni activities, Regents’ decisions, and other matters of interest to the membership.

UMRA actively promotes improvements in faculty and staff retirement benefits. UMRA also tracks discussions of and seeks improvements in health insurance coverage for retirees. Additional descriptions of UMRA activites are given in the section called Member Benefits and How to Join Back


Photo Club meets on third Fridays in 2014-15, Lunch, learn, and laugh with members of
the UMRA Photo Club

WAG - Weisman Art Gallery The UMRAra Photo Club will next meet on Friday, February 20, at the Hennepin County St. Anthony Public Library
(2941 Pentagon Dr., N.E., St. Anthony) from 1 to 3 p.m.

All are welcome for fun, fellowship, and fotos. Come at noon for the buffet lunch (with senior discount—what a deal!) at the Great Dragon restaurant just across the parking lot from the library.

The agenda for most meetings is sharing photos, photo tips and ideas, and a large dose of good fellowship. From time to time we meet at locations around the Twin Cities for a photo shoot, and there is an active e-mail exchange of ideas, tips, writings, and online galleries about photography.

Please contact Craig Swan,, or Jean Kinsey, so we will know to expect you and can add your name to the contact list for updated information. See you at our next meeting for fun, fellowship and fotos..

. Back

Book Club

The UMRA Book Club was founded in March of 2011.  It meets on the third Friday of every month at 2 p.m. at the 1666 Coffman Building near the St. Paul campus.  

Our book for January was THE ART FORGER by B.A. Shapiro.  The next books we will be reading are as follows:  DIARY OF ANNE FRANK for February; THE INVENTION OF WINGS by Sue Monk Kidd for March; DESTINY OF THE REPUBLIC by Candice Millard for April; and ALL THE LIGHT I CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr for May.  

We read both fiction and nonfiction books as chosen by a member who then acts as discussion leader for their book.  New members are welcome.   

--Contact Pat Tollefson,, for more information.




March, 2015 Retirement at Colleges and Universities

In 2014 the American Council on Education published Faculty Retirement: Best Practices for Navigating and Transitioning. It consisted of several chapters on the subject, first tracing the recent history of mandatory retirement and the changes that led to its end. Later chapters were devoted to the efforts of 13 institutions to mitigate the effects of this change.
In 1907 William Osler, chief physician of the Johns Hopkins Medical School, made a case for mandatory retirement in his outgoing talk. He claimed that faculty who were over the age of 40 were unproductive and that faculty over 60 were a nuisance. This attitude, along with a growing queue of well-qualified potential faculty who were waiting for places in the academy, led to the passing of mandatory retirement rules in many higher education institutions. By the 1960s these mandatory rules were putting a substantial percentage of the workforce into retirement, many of whom were not happy about it.
The population has aged since 1900. According to a CRS Report for Congress on life expectancy in the U.S. by I.B. Shrestha, average life expectancy went from 52.0 years in 1901–1924 to 75.8 years in 1982–2004. Many of these older people were able to continue working, and because of their extended lifespan they needed to work. But mandatory retirement rules blocked opportunities for their continued employment.
In 1967 congress passed the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The act protected employees between 40 and 65 from mandatory retirement. As 65 was commonly the retirement age for many faculty and staff in higher education, not much changed. But in 1978, an amendment to ADEA prohibited mandatory retirement before the age of 70. Again, in 1986, another amendment was passed to outlaw compulsory retirement in most sectors. But higher education continued to use mandatory retirement rules until 1993 when congress concluded that, as few faculty members worked beyond 70, a mandatory retirement age in higher education was unnecessary. So, faculty members no longer were forced into retirement by their age.
This forces universities to become creative in managing their aging workforce, while also making efforts to replenish their activities with younger people. A popular innovation has been the use of phased retirement plans. Our University had begun a version of phased retirement in the early 1980s. This has evolved into the current version, passed by the regents in 2003.
In 2003, the regents of the University of Minnesota began offering phased retirement at age 55+ to tenured faculty and professional administrative (P&A) employees on continuous appointment. In exchange for surrendering continuous appointment/tenure they can reduce their work load and receive medical and dental benefits, vacation, and life insurance for between one and five years.
According to the University's Office of Human Resources reports, between 2004 and 2013, 625 faculty members and 684 P&A staff retired for a total of 1,309. Of that 1,309 total in those years, there were 350 qualified tenured faculty and continuous appointment P&A staff who took advantage of the phased retirement option (26.7 percent). It should be noted here that most P&A staff do not hold continuous appointments, therefore most do not qualify for the phased retirement option.
The average age of retired faculty members has crept up slightly during those years (age 66 in 2004–05; 68 in 2012–13). The average age of P&A retirees has fluctuated from year to year, but has also grown (age 58 in 2004–05 to 61 in 2012–13).
This reflects a trend reported in a 2011 study by TIAA/ CREF that showed that only 25 percent of the "Baby Boomer" faculty intend to retire by age 66.
"Considering that the baby boomer generation is the largest cohort in academe (U.S. Department of Education, 2004), institutions will need to be prepared to work with this generation and to have supports in place to allow for them to work longer." ("Faculty Retirement" page 7)

Given these figures, it is hard to say how effective phased retirement has been in moderating the trend toward later retirements at Minnesota. We will need to continue to find ways to balance longer career paths with the need for opening places for younger faculty and P&A staff.

— Hal Miller, UMRA President


February, 2015 In the Bleak Mid-winter

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) puts some arresting public service ads on television. They are long and show suffering dogs and cats and are hard to watch without being drawn into the dire situations of these animals. I confess that I can hardly watch them.

Currently the SPCA sponsors one titled, "In the Bleak Mid-winter," with neglected animals suffering in the cold. The title and first stanza are taken from the poem by the Victorian poet, Christina Rosetti:
In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

The poem was written in the early 1870s and is about Mary and Joseph looking for shelter in Bethlehem before Jesus was born. It dwells on the simple surroundings of Christ's birth, in a stable amidst animals. It was made into a Christmas carol in 1906 set by Gustav Holtz.

For many Minnesotans who stay here through our own bleak mid-winter months, the first stanza has a familiar ring. As I write this, shortly after the beginning of the New Year, and with several days of below zero wind-chill, I wonder why I choose to spend another January and February here.

Rrosetti's poem, though it starts off with winter scenes familiar to Minnesotans, isn't really a weather poem. It has more to do with attitude and point of view: how does one function in dark times when nature and life situations seem unyielding?

As a Christian, Rosetti wrote of how the coming of Christ would bring relief from the bleakness of the midwinter of life. She began a later stanza with the words:"When He comes to reign…." and promised blessings and hope as a result of that reign.

But, by this time in our lives we have had to cope with discouragement and to understand that there are seasons and places where our times stand "hard as iron," and a reign of peace and prosperity is hard to see. Loss of loved ones, turn of fortunes, pain and discomfort of aging—all
of these are challenges to our ability to respond positively.

With world events—the recent rise of ISIS, Boko Haram, and wholesale slaughter of innocent people including school children—we fear for the millions who are facing threats every day. As extremist cells in Paris and other European cities emerge—can we be far behind? "When He comes to reign" seems far off when, among others, the followers of the Prince of Peace are targets of militant extremists all over the world. In the face of 21st century dangers, how can we find Rosetti's assurance of a rescuer
sent by a loving God to thaw out the bleakness of the mid-winter life?

As we look out our windows into the bleak physical and philosophical mid-winter, we look for attitudes we can bring to bear on such bleakness.

A mid-January celebration comes to encourage us—the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Faced with paralyzing racial prejudice, Dr. King endorsed a view that civil rights are essential to democracy, that segregation must end, and that all people should reject segregation absolutely and nonviolently. We celebrate the life and ideas of a man who inspired a nonviolent confrontation with wrong and led us toward a more civil society saying, "Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals."

As we seek to live well in our retirement years, it's tempting to withdraw into our private worlds seeking comfort and convenience. Quoting Dr. King again: "the ultimate measure of a man [or woman] is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand at times of challenge and controversy."

To help dispel the bleakness of the mid-winter around us, retired or
not, we may, at times, need to enter the fray and stand up to the challenges of injustice and immorality.

— Hal Miller, UMRA President



October 2014

The September issue of The Atlantic carried an article by Graeme Wood titled “Is College Doomed?” The introductory description reads, “Traditional college—expensive, arguably inefficient, slow to change—is widely seen as ripe for dissolution.” Wood goes on to describe some of the competition to the traditional institution.

Some years ago, I served on an American Council of Education task force studying how to manage the impending entry of for-profit institutions into the higher education arena. After long discussions, we concluded that regional accreditation associations would be the gatekeepers to such entries. That was before the North Central Association accredited Phoenix University, an institution with few regular full-time faculty members, and no campus. That opened the door to dozens of other for-profit institutions with similar credentials.

But the insurgents aren’t all for-profit colleges. some of them are being birthed and nourished by traditional universities and colleges.

Best known of these is the MOOC movement. MOOC stands for Mass Open Online Course. These courses are offered free by some of America’s most prestigious universities: MIT, Harvard, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Stanford, Duke, Yale, and Carnegie Mellon.

In a website called “MOOCs: Top Open Sites for Free Education,” the claim is made: “Although there has been access to free online courses on the Internet for years, the quality and quantity has changed. Access to free courses has allowed students to obtain a level of education that many only could dream of in the past. This has changed the face of education.”

Hundreds of thousands of students have registered in these courses. For example, The Atlantic reported that, in a recent survey done at the University of Pennsylvania of these students, 1.8 million registrants took 36 MOOCs. The Harvard course, “The Ancient Greek Hero” recently enrolled over 31,000 students; and Stanford’s MOOC course on artificial intelligence enrolled more than 160,000. Huge as these numbers are, the MOOC dropout rates are high. For example, only 5 percent of the students in the Penn study completed the average MOOC course and received a certificate.

Even though the dropout rate for MOOC courses is high, some traditional institutions are beginning to adopt frOMthEprEsIDENt and adapt the courses into their curricula and are giving their credits for them. Nathan Heller, in a New Yorker article entitled “Laptop U,” reported, “Following a trial run at San Jose State University, which yielded higher-than-usual pass rates, 11 schools in the California State University system moved to incorporate MOOCs into their curricula.”

The temptation to import MOOC courses, developed by leading institutions’ teaching stars and offered free, into an engineering program at a second tier college is, at this time, economically seductive. But this might be a fatal embrace to some of those programs, as it may well lead to cutting down their own resident faculty and turning others into course assistants for the MOOC. And at what point will the MOOCs begin to cost the users?

Facing public concerns about rising tuition costs, student debts, and declining legislative support, the traditional universities are turning to adjunct instruction and the Internet to expand their audience to working adults who want the credential of a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Some of them have simply expanded their own offerings to attract the audience that MOOCs were designed to serve. For instance, Western Governors University is a consortium of public universities in those states, offering online degrees for courses provided by their members. Arizona State University recently announced the availability of more than 70 online degree programs. They have also announced a partnership with Starbucks Coffee to form the Starbucks Ccollege Achievement Plan, helping baristas and others to complete their “journey in higher education.”

The University of Minnesota’s College of Continuing Education has been serving this population for years. At our October luncheon, Dean Mary Nichols will describe recent initiatives that Minnesota has been taking to address these developments.

Most of us who have spent our careers here might look at these developments and dire predictions, remembering Mark Twain’s remark that “the report of my death was an exaggeration.” It was, but it was eventually true. Let’s hope that the University of Minnesota can make the adaptations needed to thrive in this changing and dynamic higher education scene.

— Hal Miller, UMRA President



Group lunch.