UI to hire 500 professors in next five to seven years

URBANA — Faced with declining faculty ranks in recent years, the University of Illinois plans to hire 500 new professors over the next five to seven years.

The news came Monday during a campus town hall meeting where Chancellor Phyllis Wise and Provost Ilesanmi Adesida reviewed a strategic planning process being developed and announced several initiatives already under way or soon to be launched.

"All I can say is: Be ready to move," Wise said to an overflow crowd of faculty, staff and students assembled at the Beckman Institute.

The two leaders said the UI will be the pre-eminent public research university with a land-grant mission and global impact. In order to hold such a title, Adesida outlined three goals for the campus: improve scholarship, discovery and innovation; provide students with a transformative learning experience; and have an impact on society.

Rebuilding the faculty in several strategic areas is a key component of the vision unveiled on Monday. In recent years the number of tenured-system faculty has decreased from about 2,100 in the 2007-2008 school year to a current tally of around 1,856.

Faculty ranks have eroded due to several factors, including a spike in retirements, hiring freezes amid an uncertain state funding outlook and employees leaving for opportunities elsewhere. The campus has organized several hiring programs to counteract that trend, but numbers are still down, particularly because of a high number of faculty who retired last year.

Rebuilding faculty "is how we bring new energy" to the campus, said Adesida, whose office oversees faculty hiring.

"Hiring 500 faculty over the next five to seven years will be a challenge, but an exciting and a welcome challenge," said Barbara Wilson, executive vice provost for faculty and academic affairs.

The new faculty hires will be in six theme areas — "cluster hires" — but the campus will also be looking to prop up faculty numbers in departments as well.

"Cluster hiring offers the ability to quickly build critical mass in targeted areas," Adesida said.

These cluster hires will likely be scholars whose work extends beyond one discipline, department or even college, according to Wilson.

"We will focus on bringing in groups of faculty, some at the senior level, who can help us address the grand challenges even more effectively than we currently do," she said.

When Wise arrived on campus about 18 months ago, many people asked her, "What's your vision for Illinois?"

Rather than responding with a specific answer, she said, she wanted to launch a process that sought input from the campus community, alumni, area business leaders and more. She wanted to "create a shared vision," Wise said.

The new campus leader went on a "listening and learning tour" and began a "Visioning Future Excellence" process, which asked people to consider society's most pressing challenges in the decades to come and how the university can address those challenges. The process yielded six different themes: economic development; education; energy and environment; health and wellness; information and technology; and social equality and cultural understanding. For each theme, a committee came up with dozens of recommendations for short and mid-term actions.

Several pieces are already being shaped. In addition to the effort to rebuild faculty, Adesida outlined other initiatives being planned. Some examples include:

— An initiative to be launched this fall that will enhance support for grant writing and proposals, essentially to help researchers write and win more grants.

— More support for arts and humanities by increasing funding for a small grant called the Humanities and Arts Scholar Support Program.

— Create a searchable database of faculty expertise to help researchers and students connect with possible collaborators.

— Continue with the $70 million renovations of classroom spaces throughout campus buildings. "We can't provide a 21st century experience by putting students in classrooms of the 1940s and '60s," Adesida said.

— A new campus center to be launched this fall that supports teaching in all its forms. "Transformative learning starts with transformative teaching," he said.

— A new social sciences institute.

— Regular review of academic programs are coming and several departments will undergo the process this fall.

Throughout the town hall, Wise stressed that the visioning excellence process involved input from many, and that shouldn't change going forward.

"We really want this to be a two-way conversation," she said, reminding attendees they can email her at chancellor@illinois.edu or Adesida at provost@illinois.edu with continued feedback.

Adesida said they came up with a set of principles that will guide the process and any actions that come out of it. Those principles call for any possible change to be in the best interest of the institution and students; enhance intellectual synergies; enhance efficiency and impact; be done in a public, transparent way; follow the university's shared governance system, and be done in uniform, measured way; and be consistently applied.

That principle of shared governance, a concept in which university decisions involve input from faculty and student leaders, is what caught the ear of UI computer science Professor Roy Campbell, vice chairman of the Academic Senate, who attended Monday's town hall.

"The chancellor and the provost are working as a team and they're working with faculty, which I've been very impressed with," Campbell said. As Wise discussed in her speech, higher education is facing a crossroads, he said, "We have to act together."

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kiel wrote on April 23, 2013 at 8:04 am

Wonderful news, but it is not a given that truly excellent researchers and teachers will WANT to come to UIUC, given that the state pension system is a train wreck, the state is way behind paying insurance bills, and the state legislature regularly attacks faculty fringe benefits that are de rigeur at other R1 universities (e.g., tuition waiver for faculty's children [currently only 50% compared to 100% at most other universities], sabbatical policies, current 14% or so state funding levels for its flagship "public" university, affordable insurance premiums, etc.). UIUC will get lots of job applications, but the cream of the crop of researchers will have other offers from institutions in states with more fundamentally sound finances and a true commitment to PUBLIC higher education. UIUC will have trouble competing with these places, despite the ongoing world-class efforts of current faculty, students, and (some) administrators. 

PRGrad wrote on April 23, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Do you know why the insurance bills aren't being paid? Because the state hasn't paid the insurance premiums even though they're being taken out of employees' paychecks. I was told yesterday that they were up to November 7 in payments on health insurance premiums and that we should generally plan on claims being paid 40 weeks from the date they were processed (not incurred). When I called on February 26, they were up to October 31. So, that means it's taken the state 55 days to creep along 7 days in payments.

syzlack wrote on April 23, 2013 at 9:04 am

Whenever I hear the word excellence I reach for my revolver.   How are these 500 new hires going to be paid?  Will they really be working on the "land-grant mission," whatever the hell that means?  Or will they be on the corporate dime, like at the Monsanto college of agriculture?  People in this state should really get over the illusion that UIUC is, or wants to be, a public university. 

Bulldogmojo wrote on April 23, 2013 at 10:04 am

University of Illinois

Wanted: 500 Professors

Self starter, Must be willing to tow administrative party line and be open to losing your research and patent rights. Wages commensurate with experience but probably much lower, benefits may not be valid and pension may be missing at time of retirement. Candidate must be willing to publicly show contempt for civil service employees while demanding tenure from home computer.

As always, no fatties. EOE

Lostinspace wrote on April 23, 2013 at 10:04 am

"Rebuilding the faculty in several strategic areas..."

Could we know what those are?

syzlack wrote on April 23, 2013 at 11:04 am

They tell you in the story.  It's more generic booster babble.   The categories cover 99% of all human endeavor and interests.  I think they missed only theology.  As the saying goes, the devil is in the details.  Meanwhile, a new UI bio-research center is going to be announced tomorrow for Chicago, to partner with "bio-science" companies like ADM!!!  And so it goes in corpor-U.

jlc wrote on April 23, 2013 at 12:04 pm

"We can't provide a 21st century experience by putting students in classrooms of the 1940s and '60s," Adesida said.

So true. The lead paint flaking off the windowsills and blowing into the classrooms on the quad is certainly that old. Hot water in the restrooms for handwashing would be another nice 21st century touch.

stiguy wrote on April 23, 2013 at 3:04 pm

They don't say how many are expected to leave university service over the next five years.  I'm guessing many will be getting out while there's still money in the pension system.  Even adding as many as 500 might still mean a net loss of faculty.

Sid Saltfork wrote on April 23, 2013 at 3:04 pm

How many professor emeritus positions will be created?  "Can someone make coffee..?"  "I need someone to help me with the computer on my desk.."  "If anyone calls for me, ask them why they want to talk to me."  "Do not disturb me until you knock on my door at four."

Lostinspace wrote on April 23, 2013 at 6:04 pm

Excellent point.  Follow up Ms Des Garannes!

WOW wrote on April 25, 2013 at 11:04 pm

Oh, I read it as "Broke State to Hire 500 Add Highly Paid State Workers to Payroll", but calling them professors is far more palatable. I doubt any of them are in economics.

Bulldogmojo wrote on April 26, 2013 at 9:04 am

Your solution to a "broke state" is to cut back on education? Why would anyone want to learn anything? Everyone can just become carpet layers and gun store owners.

WOW wrote on April 26, 2013 at 10:04 am

Well, in that case, why stop at just 500 when we could hire 5000 or 50000 instead.

Asking a broke state's school's to be more efficient is fully warranted, since they are BROKE. The whole educational system is ripe for an overhaul. Spending has been totally out of control for decades, it's time the state reduced the burden of eductaion on taxpayers that are forced to foot the bill.

Although "cutting back on education" is a catch phrase that evokes strong emotional responses, years and years of overspending for the inferior product we are receiving has shown that it doesn't work either.

A good example of how out of control the spending is the k-12th grade public schools. On AVERAGE each student cost the taxpayers over $12,000 per year without regard to the product produced. Some schools are paid over $25,000 per student per year (inner city Chicago). On average, for the first 13 years of eductation, this is more than $156,000 per student to buy them a high school diploma no matter how poor the product is. In inner city schools, you have paid over $325,000 per student IF they stay in school all 13 years, but nearly half never even graduate.

No business that wishes to stay in business would randomly hire a person based on that person having a public school high school diploma. Why, because the product on average is of very poor quality. No state school guarantees their product the way we expect private sector businesses to guarantee theirs. It isn't hard to find even high school graduates that can't add up change at the checkout line. It's very sad. To overcome this handicap, cash registers have change machines added to them.

When you get to the college level, hopefully, the product would be better, since they heavily filter out their incoming "students", but even they still don't guarantee their product. They don't guarantee that their students will even find a job. Amazing as it sounds, Illinois State universities don't even believe in the product of the lower state schools. They recognise that having a high school degree doesn't guarantee the product. 

Larger state universities, have a smaller percentage of "professors" actually teaching classes anyway, but have much higher tuition and fee costs than smaller state universities. Instead, classes are taught and monitered by "teaching assistants". A "teaching assistant" is just another student that has taken the class before, and they don't have the working knowledge of a professor, but the students enrolled are paying more for the class time than they would at a smaller state university. For instance, Eastern Illinois University is much cheaper, but it's 2 year "pre-engineering" course has a much higher success rate of getting engineering students into U of I's 3rd year of engineering school. Most likely because the classes are taught by real professors, not student baby sitters. EIU has for decades produced a better first 2 years of engineering school than U of I, based on U of I's own standards and U of I's own data. A lower cost  for the students, a higher success ratio to getting into U of I, and a better product for the state taxpayers.

Boiled down, "education" is just a money game, and that by itself is an education all by itself, but only to taxpayers.

Bulldogmojo wrote on April 26, 2013 at 11:04 am

Just so we are clear regarding your "IF they stay in school all 13 years, but nearly half never even graduate", comment,  If your child drops out of high school it is because you have failed as a parent. Teachers are NOT surrogate parents. Did you have some other game plan in mind for identifying potential drop outs? In-vitro genetic testing to weed them out? I don't think we as a society can throw in the towel on anyone at any stage of education. Look at the number of adults who are going back and finishing their degrees later in life. Continuing education is a life long dynamic pursuit now.

I agree the U of I has always had enough money to act stupidly up until a few years ago. Just look at the absurd salary we pay Chancelor Wise to wander around hoping her phony "affable old lady" persona will get her to the end of her time here because she certainly isn't doing the job. The UIUC engineering school is a flunk out academy as they are trying to get top engineers to attract donors like Caterpillar who are willing to donate 13 Million while simultaneously laying off hundreds of workers just to get access to top engineers, research, patents etc. If you are looking to make all Universities private so you don't have to pay taxes then we have a problem of some people having access to higher education and others who are banned based on undue influence and didn't we just get rid of some admins for doing that under the table?

There are a lot of teaching assistants who have substantial working knowledge of their field and are contributing by their involvement so to lump them all together is unreasonable.

What businesses hire people randomly? It's called a job interview.