November 20, 2011

Hiring Initiative Will Replace Retiring Faculty

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As a large portion of Cornell’s faculty approach retirement age, Cornell started a new faculty hiring initiative — which administrators call “faculty renewal” — last year that will fill the 50 percent of positions that are expected to be vacated over the next 10 years.

Trustees and academic deans decided in 2010 that part of their fundraising campaign for 2015 would be used to pay for the hiring of new faculty before other faculty members retire, Provost Kent Fuchs said.

“The big wave of retirements that we know are going to happen are going to touch all disciplines. They are going to touch faculty; they are going to touch every corner of the University,” President David Skorton said in an interview on Oct. 25.

Skorton said that the initiative is intended to bring in new faculty members ahead of an expected wave of retirements of existing faculty members.

“The idea is not to greatly grow that overall number, but not to fall behind as people retire, and because you cannot predict when people will retire, that will require a sort of preemptive hiring approach,” Skorton said.

The initiative began in response to the increased average age of faculty members, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Peter Lepage said. Thirty years ago, approximately a quarter of the University faculty were age 55 and older. Today, almost half of the faculty is over 55.

“There were a lot of faculty hired 25 to 30years ago that are now over the next 10 years, going to be retiring, and we expect as many as half the faculty will retire over the next 10 years,” Fuchs said.

The fundraising effort is a combination of $50 million from outside donors and another estimated $50 million that will come from each college, depending on the college’s ability to pay and the need for new faculty, Fuchs said.

Lepage said these funds allow the University to hire new faculty immediately, without having to wait until faculty retire.

“What is helping is we’ve been able to get into hiring market rather quickly,” Lepage said.

Fuchs said that the University started hiring faculty early because the quality of the applicant pool is better.

“I would say that this past year has been the best year in many decades for recruiting new faculty, and I expect that it will stay the same for several more years,” Fuchs said.

Before beginning hiring, Lepage asked each department to look at the overall makeup of faculty and what changes they expect over the next 10 years. This includes what kind of skills and subfields the department will want to emphasize in the future, Lepage said.

“The main thing we look for are extremely high quality scholars and teachers,” Lepage said.

Faculty members were attracted to Cornell’s history of cutting-edge scholarship, according to Prof. Adam Smith, anthropology.

Prof. Pedro Erber Ph.D. ’09, romantic studies, received his doctorate degree in East Asian Studies at Cornell, and said the possibility of working across all disciplines appealed to him when applying to Cornell.

“I like my students, and I like the subjects I get to teach here,” Erber said.

Fuchs emphasized the diversity of new faculty, saying that faculty that began at Cornell in the fall were more diverse than those in past years.

“Almost half of the faculty we recruited that we hired this year were women — even in engineering, for example, which has relatively small number of women faculty,” Fuchs said.

Lepage said that with the addition of faculty members, changes will occur within the University, including new courses that cater to their various interests.

“I know that the fact that we’ve increased faculty hiring — the rate and the amount — helps bring new energy to campus and helps us to be even more enthusiastic about the future,” Fuchs said.

Smith echoed Fuchs’ sentiments, noting the heightened enthusiasm that accompanied five new hires in the Anthropology Department.

“That radically energizes a place and shows wonderful support of Anthropology,” Smith said.

Prof. Elisha Cohn, English, one of the Sesquicentennial Fellows, spoke to the relationship between the new hires.

“There is a real sense of intellectual community among new hires,” Cohn said. “In terms of how we’re integrated into departments and the way we’re expected to be apart of the University, [it] is exactly the same.”

Both Lepage and Fuchs stressed the challenges of hiring.

“You always find faculty that have geographical preferences,” Fuchs said.

Since Ithaca is a small town without many well-known universities and industries, it is difficult to draw potential faculty members and their partners to the University, Lepage said.

Being in Ithaca is also one of the biggest opportunities to hire  interesting people, he said. With the new money for hiring, the University can hire spouses and attract couples that both contribute to the university, he said.

Smith and his wife, Prof. Lori Khatchadourian, Near Eastern studies, are one of these couples, Smith said.

With the large number of new faculty, the University is working to facilitate dinners with the new hires so that they can get to know each other and make cross-college and cross-department contacts, Cohn said.

Skorton noted that faculty renewal will also change the student-teacher ratio, which is currently too large.

“If anything, the student body is a little bit bigger, and if anything, the faculty is a little bit smaller, pushing the ratio in the wrong direction,” Skorton said.

Faculty renewal was one of seven strategic initiatives included in Cornell’s Strategic Plan for 2010 to 2015.

“[Faculty renewal] came out of discussions with trustees and deans, but it also came out of this plan that came out a year. So it’s fun to see that something that was written a year and a half ago — by trustees, by faculty, by others — actually come to fruition,” Fuchs said.

Original Author: Caroline Flax