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New legislation spells out 'postdoc' policy

May 23, 2007

Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano signed Senate Bill 1556 into law last week, a legislative move that will except postdoctoral scholars who are employed by an Arizona public university from participation in the Arizona State Retirement System (ASRS).

This legislation followed approval of a new “Conditions of Postdoctoral Scholar Service” policy by the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) at its March meeting.

The legislation and ABOR policy were in response to a near two-year period of forums and surveys at ASU that involved postdoctoral scholars, principal investigators and department chairs in addressing the need for a separate classification for postdoctoral scholars in recognition of their unique status, conditions of service, sources of funding, and short-term affiliation with the universities.

“Postdoctoral fellows are critical to our research mission and this legislation will help us attract and retain the most talented individuals to these positions,” said Betty Capaldi, executive vice president and provost of ASU.

In considering the new policy, the board was advised that 62 percent of higher education institutions classify postdoctoral positions in a separate category, distinct from faculty, students and staff, according to a survey by the Association of American Universities. Also, it was noted that 89 percent of postdoctoral scholars at ASU are paid by non-state funds. Postdoctoral scholars generally are paid out of their faculty mentor's research grants, or from federal or private foundations.

The compensation available to the postdoctoral scholar for research and other academic activities that characterize their role at the university is decreased by the deduction for the employee portion of the retirement contribution, which also could serve as income for the fellow to make student loan payments and other immediate needs until she or he is hired into a regular position in academia or industry and eligible for retirement benefits.

The new ABOR policy aims to more accurately define postdoctoral scholars as professional apprentices, as they are appointed on short-term appointments that cannot exceed five years, and addresses duties and responsibilities and benefits of the new classification.

The policy will take effect Jan. 1.