Academia is supposed to be a world of respect and knowledge; a place where attaining knowledge and wisdom are regarded as the ultimate achievements. Recently, those values have started to change.
Trudy Valentine spent the past 20 years of her life as a professor for a small Appalachian university. For 20 years—during which she garnered numerous accolades, including the highest honor the institution bestowed on a faculty member—she drove through the foothills to teach at the same school her mother had graduated from in the mid 20th Century. Even as she entered her 60s, her job felt secure. In December of 2012, before she had a chance to decide for her own, retirement was forced on her.
We got an email about a meeting…a bunch of us older people got put aside. We were told our contracts would not be renewed for next year. For the first time, I have faced that [ageism] and I’ve never had it before. Now all the sudden, I’m the old person. it’s a strange feeling. it’s kind of like, wait a minute how did I get here?
For Trudy, the dismissal came as a shock; and the ceremony was not pretty.
They literally had an armed guard in the building. It was cold to say the least. I was mad, mad because the people that actually did this hadn’t been there as long as I had. My mother went to that school, I had a lot more right to be there as far as I’m concerned.
In total, nearly two dozen faculty members at the same university were let go this year. However, Trudy’s situation is not unique.
Educators around the country have reported suspicious layoffs of near-retired teachers. Some even feel that their administrations are actively trying to run them off. A Memphis elementary school teacher who asked to remain anonymous stated,
There is an administrator in our school system who is using new teacher evaluation models to score older teachers much lower than newer teachers. The suspicion is that it is related to money. Younger teachers cost a lot less than older ones.
Since that interview, those claims were backed up by legislation. On April 30th, 2013, Memphis City Schools voted to no longer use teacher experience or academic degree levels to determine salary for teachers, essentially handicapping older, more highly compensated teachers during any economic crisis within the school system.
And in Indiana, a former high school teacher has filed a $1M lawsuit alleging that age discrimination caused him to lose his job.
So what’s the cure? How do you Fight Ageism in education?
For now, simply raising awareness is a start. You can get involved by liking our Facebook page and sharing this story with your friends. If you have a story about ageism in your area, you can share it with us there.
As Trudy said, “I look at it as an opportunity to do good. It’s like I’m graduating college all over again.”