Faculty hiring among challenges UVa faces, board members hear - The Daily Progress: Local

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Faculty hiring among challenges UVa faces, board members hear

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Posted: Thursday, September 19, 2013 8:11 pm

Rankings, new hiring and the strategic plan were just a few of the topics discussed Thursday in a series of committee meetings held by the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors.

The university is trying to reel in professors to fill 100 current faculty vacancies, and Provost John D. Simon said individual help-wanted ads haven’t been cutting it. So officials have begun an aggressive ad campaign, including full-page ads in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Headlined “The Power of Purpose,” the ads talk about the university’s reputation as both a teaching and research institution. The idea is to make the announcements holistically, and try to catch the eye of academic job seekers.

“We’re hoping this puts out a sense of excitement as to where we are as an institution,” Simon said.

The ads could also be effective in bringing in married academics — couples who could both work at UVa. During a later discussion on graduate schools, UVa law school Dean Paul G. Mahoney called dual-career couples — where both spouses have careers and need work — “the single-biggest issue with recruitment and retention.”

Like most universities around the country, UVa is dealing with a wave of retirees and looking to hire new faculty in their place. President Teresa A. Sullivan said this hiring is a crucial part of the overall strategic plan.

“Hiring over the next five years will be the most important thing we do in terms of the strategic direction of the university,” she said.

Sullivan revealed more of the plan to members of the board’s Strategic Planning Committee. She started by talking about UVa in its present state, and how it compares to its closest competitors — the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of California, Berkeley. 

UVa tied for second in the public schools category of the most recent college rankings by U.S. News & World Report, behind UC-Berkeley. UVa outperforms both schools in graduation rate and student retention, but is far behind in financial resources, Sullivan said.

UC-Berkeley, she said, was on the receiving end of a boom in science research investment from the federal government after World War II. “The federal government is unlikely to make a similar investment in us in the coming years,” she said.

Sullivan talked more about the strategic plan, which staff began covering at the Board of Visitors’ August meetings. New initiatives include student leadership courses, new academic programs for alumni and a push to hire more interdisciplinary faculty.

The university will need to improve its infrastructure to better accommodate researchers, Sullivan said. This includes more safeguards against electrical blackouts (which can ruin experiments) and increased capacity for data storage, she said.

“Infrastructure may not sound like the most glamorous thing to do, but it’s absolutely crucial to our future,” Sullivan said.

Board members continued to press administrators on the cost, although the university has said it won’t know until the plan is closer to being finished. Frank E. Genovese, a new board member, asked if administrators could implement the new initiatives without a major funding increase.

Pat Hogan, the university’s chief operating officer, said many of the new initiatives don’t require major investments. Many of the new programs, such as the Big Data initiative introduced last month, use the resources UVa already has.

“We’re not opening any new buildings, we’re not starting any new schools,” Hogan said. Later, he pointed out that the university has managed to keep its high ranking with less funding than the similarly ranked UC schools.

“We’re already pretty efficient and effective in how we use our resources,” he said.

Board committee meetings continue Friday.

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