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Academic for life

Entering the next chapter: the value of university retiree associations

Members benefit from social and intellectual engagement as well as important information to guide a successful retirement.


Editor’s note: Welcome to Academic for life, a new column aimed at academics who are retired but want to stay involved in academe.

In 1994, a group of older academics gathered at the University of Calgary to discuss what the future could look like for the growing number of college and university retirees. It was noted that existing arrangements in most postsecondary institutions were, at that time, entirely informal. Over the next few years, retiree organizations became more common and, in 2002, representatives of 20 retiree groups met at the University of Toronto and developed plans for a national organization.

At the meeting, a federation of retiree associations (RAs) was established to bring together a wide range of postsecondary retiree groups. The College and University Retiree Associations of Canada (CURAC) was the result. Its initial constitution was then ratified at a meeting at Dalhousie University in 2003.

Over the next two decades, CURAC grew to some 40 RAs representing more than 21,000 retirees: both faculty and staff. Changes in the demographic and institutional environment have made these RAs and their national association more important than ever.

Guidance on academic retirement’s different pathways

With the end of compulsory retirement at age 65 and increased life expectancy, the transition to retirement has become more complex. For most workers in postsecondary education, the work is satisfying and the choice of when to retire requires consideration not only of personal health issues but also the adequacy of pensions and health benefits and how to manage continuing engagement with university or college communities and professional and academic associations. RAs provide significant assistance with these questions. This column, Academic for Life, will feature articles on these subjects.

The majority of CURAC members are classified as “young-old” age (65-74) or “middle-old” age (75-84). Most of the young-old are in good health and, as our surveys have shown us and wish to remain active in their university communities. Many in the older group may be reducing their level of activity but still want social connections.

Regardless of age, the transition to retirement can be difficult and can follow different pathways. From the beginning, one of the primary goals of CURAC has been to assist its RAs in making information available about the options that exist, especially for those who feel a need to maintain an active engagement in their academic institution.

The founders recognized that Canada is large and regionally diverse. They imagined CURAC as the central element in a communication system that would enable local groups to exchange information about best practices, obtain comparative data on retiree benefits at postsecondary institutions, review options for additional health-related benefits and encourage engagement on a wide range of seniors’ issues.

Fresh directions

Over the past two decades, the CURAC board has worked to fulfil those ambitions through periodic newsletters, an informative website, reports on pensions and benefits relevant to local RAs, health policy bulletins, contracts with affinity partners that offer benefits to RA members, and an annual conference that promotes networking among local RAs and the sharing of best practices and presentations by experts on seniors’ issues. The 2022 annual CURAC conference was held on May 19 on a theme of wellness and well-being. The presentations on various aspects of wellness relevant to seniors can be viewed at, under the heading CURAC Virtual Assembly.

 An information hub

In 2022, the CURAC board embarked on a review of the organization’s activities, focusing on enhancing CURAC’s role as an information hub. As a result, CURAC is embarking on new projects such as website redesign, more scheduled and targeted communications, webinars on timely topics, regular virtual consultations with RA leaders, and a new slew of surveys about retiree benefits and the interests and concerns of RA members. CURAC’s later-life-learning committee provides listings of online events that local RAs can share with their membership, a program that continues to grow.

In his presentation to the 2022 CURAC Virtual Assembly, John Helliwell, professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia and editor of the World Happiness Report, listed the key elements of well-being and happiness that apply especially to seniors: social engagement or membership in a community, a sense of common purpose, social support, trust in the benevolence of others, and involvement in pro-social activities.

These elements are all offered by local RAs. They organize a wide range of social and intellectual activities, including lectures and discussions, theatre trips and tours, and visits to local attractions. In addition, they arrange for continuing contributions by members to their institutions, raising funds for scholarships, mentoring younger faculty and students, encouraging ongoing professional activities that enhance the reputation of their institutions and many volunteer activities. Readers can find out more details as we explore the many impressive programs offered by local RAs through future column entries.

Fred Fletcher is professor emeritus of political science and communications studies at York University as well as chairperson of the communications committee for the CURAC/ARUCC board of directors.

The College and University Retirees Associations of Canada/Associations des retraités des universités et collèges du Canada (CURAC/ARUCC) is a not-for-profit federation of retiree associations at colleges and universities across Canada, operated by a volunteer board of directors. Further information, including a listing of member RAs, is available at or from [email protected]. The two university professors emeriti who are co-directors for the CURAC/ARUCC University Affairs column are Carole-Lynne Le Navenec and Fred Fletcher.

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