April 10, 2012

Vet College Faces Wave of Faculty Retirements

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Mirroring a University-wide trend in faculty turnover, the College of Veterinary Medicine is facing the expected loss of 30 to 40 percent of its professors in the next 10 years.

With 35 percent of its faculty over the age of 60 and nearly 60 percent over the age of 55, the vet school has been considering ways to adjust to the large number of professors that will retire in the upcoming years. This is one of the most pressing issues facing the college in 2012, Micheal Kotlikoff, dean of the veterinary college, said in his State of the College Address in November.

“We’re starting to see significant retirements,” Kotlikoff said. “These are the faculty responsible for the number-one ranking of the vet college. The challenge is to find faculty who will continue this prestige.”

Judith Appleton, associate dean for academic affairs, echoed Kotlikoff’s sentiments, saying that the faculty who are retiring are among the most respected scholars in field of veterinary science.

“Faculty members teach in a curriculum that is distinctive and enables students to work closely with their instructors and learn in a problem-based context,” Appleton said in an email. “The faculty is the core of our college, and we have benefited greatly by recruiting very talented individuals to Cornell.”

Some faculty members, such as Prof. Alexander Nikitin, pathology, who has taught at Cornell for 12 years, called the wave of retirements hitting the veterinary college a “double-edged sword.”

“You want an influx of new minds who have more energy and more input, but at the same time, many of the old faculty are essential to the teaching experience and are extremely productive,” Nikitin said.

As the veterinary college prepares to replace retiring professors, Nikitin said that “ideally, we wouldn’t have a sudden change.”

“We want something more gradual. When you retire old faculty, you want to make sure that you have new faculty that can serve the same functions, while also bringing new ideas,” he said.

Additionally, he said the college should focus on recruiting “a mix of new hires that are going to be [both] young people and more senior professors” in order to avoid a large turnover of faculty in the college in the future.

Nikitin said he hopes that the next time the veterinary college faces a wave of retirements, that 20 percent of professors will be retiring instead of 50.

Currently, the college has a number of initiatives in place to help lessen the blow as faculty retire. The most important of these, according to Kotlikoff, will be pre-filling positions. For instance, the college has already recruited new department chairs and given them the responsibility of hiring new people to fill positions within their departments, Kotlikoff said.

Still, Kotlikoff said that pre-filling is, at best, “an educated guess.”

Because of budget cuts over the last few years, Kotlikoff said, the veterinary college cannot hire extra faculty at this time and must instead rely on quickly filling positions as professors announce their retirement.

For instance, over the past three years, the veterinary college lost 20 percent of its funding from the State University of New York, Kotlikoff said in his State of the College address.

By filling positions on a case-by-case basis, however, Kotlikoff said that the veterinary college can be selective in choosing people to fill the positions left by retiring professors. It has also used donations, such as a $10 million gift it recently received, to endow faculty positions in certain departments.

“Our strategy is to hire at a time of strength and not weakness,” Kotlikoff said. “Many of the faculty have pursued their entire careers at Cornell. They are responsible for major program changes and scientific discoveries.”

Looking forward, Appleton said she believes that aging faculty will continue to be involved with the veterinary college well into their sixties and seventies.

She also stressed, however, that new faculty hired by the veterinary college will serve as the face of the school for years to come.

“New faculty invigorate an institution and are pivotal in helping it to meet new challenges,” Appleton said. “We need to recruit innovative and creative faculty members who will take the lead helping our college to evolve in a new century.”

Original Author: Erika Hooker