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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Early retirement an opportunistic option

Published: March 7, 2014
Section: News

Sara Kunz has worked diligently at Brandeis for decades, first with Professor Al Redfield on NMR Spectrometers and then within the Chemistry Department for the past 15 years. A graduate of Brandeis herself, Kunz has poured time, passion and effort into her varied positions within the Chemistry Department. This May, Kunz will be retiring, choosing to participate in Brandeis’ recently announced retirement buyouts.

“It was hard I think because it was sudden,” Kunz said in an interview this week. “But on the other hand it was sort of obvious, that if I didn’t take this … I didn’t expect that I would be on the short list of people to let go to save more money, but if I worked until I turned 67, if I worked until I was 68, I thought there comes a point where you need to let the new people figure it out.”

Kunz has enjoyed her years of service to Brandeis, and the varied positions she has held.

“I have great people to work with and to help me and to assist me,” said Kunz. “I’ve found I’m not a people person, very much, I do very well with equipment as I don’t have to remember their names. But I’ve always had people who were very good at helping me.”

Kunz will be retiring by May 30, per conditions set out by Brandeis’ new “voluntary early retirement buyout packages.” These packages were announced on Jan. 27 for staff members 60 years or older with 10 or more years of service at Brandeis. The buyouts were proposed to address a projected $6.5 billion deficit incurred by the university. It promises a year’s severance at the employee’s regular base pay, in addition to $15,000 of “transition allowance.”

In a recent email to The Hoot, David Bunis, senior vice president and chief legal office, stated that these buyouts are totally optional. He wrote, “No one is being asked to step down.” In earlier emails to The Hoot, Ellen de Graffenreid, senior vice president for communications, also stated that the overall goal is always improving the university and serving students better.

“We are generally trying to be as efficient as possible with our resources so that we can provide a great education for Brandeis students,” de Graffenreid said.

While Kunz reports that selecting retirement was her personal choice, she can see how the proposed plan could be difficult for others at the university.

“I always felt it was a choice but for me if I was 62, I would probably have said no, if I felt secure in my position … at 62 I would find it a much harder decision,” she said. In discussing the projected $6.5 billion deficit, she said, “Depending upon what your position is, and how much you think you are needed, you may feel vulnerable.”

Others agree, such as Professor Gordon Fellman (SOC), who was previously quoted by both The Boston Globe and The Hoot.

“Some of my colleagues wonder if they don’t take the plan then they will get fired,” Fellman said. “Jobs out there right now are scarce, so this seems like kind of a gamble. ”

Kunz states that a surprising number of staff members have selected to retire via this program.

“You’ll see lots and lots of people, one of my friends is 79, and he’s taken it. So there’s an array of people … I don’t know if the university expected such a high response, or whether they hoped for such a high response, but I’m really impressed with the number of people,” she said.

For Kunz, retirement will be a big change. From looking after nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometers to her constant involvement in the hazardous helium fill process, she has served the chemistry department dutifully and witnessed great technological changes as time passed. But the time has come for her to move on.

“The University provided us with new computers for chemistry teaching labs, and we’re getting the rest, and it will be very nice to leave with all of that taken care of,” she said. “And I’ve always been the interface for this software necessary for chemistry and biology students, but now they’ll have to find somebody else.”

But Kunz won’t be further than a phone call away from her alma mater.

“I’ll help them. I live in Boston, and they call me up,” she said with a smile.