The Golden Handshake

My father often spoke in somewhat wistful tones about the concept of The Golden Handshake. It was offered on rare occasion to the men and women of his factory, an opportunity of a lifetime in many cases.

The Golden Handshake was a buyout plan, but it was never pitched that way back at the factory. It was a “thank you” to a lot of the old guys and gals (usually guys, given the era) who had given a lot of their lives to the factory. It was a chance to retire with a bonus and a chance to leave on your own terms.

We give you a big chunk of money and move you into retirement. You agree to retire now so we can move some people around. It always sounded so reasonable.

When Dad decided to retire, I can’t remember if he got that Handshake or not. I do remember that he went to the HR guy and told him he was quitting (this was in November or something) and the guy actually told him not to.

“You’re going to finish up your two weeks and then you’re going to take all your vacation,” he told Dad. “Then on Jan. 2, you’re coming in for a day, punching in and then going on vacation until mid-March. That will use up all your benefits, keep you on salary and then we can move you to retirement money.”

It was an odd and purposeful gaming of the system that helped Dad stop working and yet get the better of the deal.

That’s not what I remembered about The Golden Handshake, however, when I heard that another couple UW campuses are offering it to some of the older faculty. The UW is applying some of those “business-conscious efforts” that private enterprises use when they need to cut costs. In this case, it’s because of Governor Deadeyes’ threat of a $300 million throat slash to the system.

What I remember about The Golden Handshake was what happened to people who didn’t take it.

Dad would tell stories about foremen shifting these old guys with tons of seniority to third-shift work. The guys often had their work reviewed by supervisors with who had keener eyesight and sharper pencils. The workload rules of “It will get done” became “It must get done now. Or else.”

In short it was “Resign or be prosecuted. Any way you want it.

I have heard more than a few stories of professors who have outlived their usefulness on various campuses. They rest on their laurels, they show way too many movies (most of them on VHS) and they kind of coast toward retirement.

We derisively referred to them as ROAD (Retired on active duty) while my buddy from the military used call them RIPs (Retired in place). I’m sure that each of these campuses have a few barnacles they’d like to scrape from the side of their hulls.

However, the problem is that these aren’t the people who will likely take the deal.

When I talked about stuff like this with my chair, we discussed a colleague who might have an opportunity to “handshake out.”

“No way he takes it,” my chair told me. “Why would you take half the money to do no work when you can get ALL the money and do almost no work?”

A similar RIP in my wife’s area loudly declared that if they offered something like that in her area, she’d flatly refuse. “I’ve got more money to make,” she noted.

And the downside as far as these UW campuses are concerned is that there are limited sticks they can use when the carrot fails. They could move class times to be less appealing or force older faculty to teach newer courses. However, in most cases, there isn’t a breaking point that would force the faculty’s hand. And when this happens, these people become the examples held up by legislators as the “lazy, tenured professors” who are milking the system.

It is unclear the degree to which these buyouts will work in improving quality while cutting costs. However, my great fear is that the best and brightest of those elder statesmen and stateswomen will take the money and run while what is left will be a long and winding ROAD to worse conditions.

One thought on “The Golden Handshake

  1. Beware, some “golden handshakes” are actually “gilded handshakes”

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