UI admin tells state senators of Texas schools' faculty-poaching fund

UI admin tells state senators of Texas schools' faculty-poaching fund

SPRINGFIELD — Public universities in Texas have special funds set aside to recruit faculty members from the University of Illinois, UI Executive Vice President Barbara Wilson told an Illinois Senate committee Thursday.

She also said that the UI is about to respond with an announcement about the hiring of top faculty under its own Distinguished Faculty Recruitment Program.

"We know for a fact that Texas and Texas A&M have a special fund set aside to go poach Illinois faculty. We've been told that by numerous individuals," Wilson told the Senate Appropriations Committee.

"We do have a reputational challenge in front of us, and I think part of the challenge is that our peers think that we're struggling and they are going to use that opportunity to try to attract talent away."

Wilson said she was told of the Texas program by UI faculty members being wooed there.

"The person I talked to most recently is staying put, but that's what he learned when he made a trip there," Wilson told reporters following the committee meeting.

A spokeswoman at the University of Texas acknowledged Thursday that the system has budgeted $60 million in recent years for a systemwide faculty STARS (Science and Technology Acquisition and Retention) program, but said that she was unaware of any effort specifically aimed at Illinois faculty members.

Separately, Texas' Governor's University Research Unit has set aside money to recruit researchers from around the world to public colleges and universities in Texas.

Wilson also said the number of UI faculty members being approached by other universities "with bona fide efforts to get them to move" has increased 40 percent in the last three years during the nearly 800-day state budget impasse that ended last July.

"The good news is that we kept most of the faculty, but we had to spend a lot of money and a lot of time convincing them to stay put," Wilson said. "That's the challenge we face."

The number of faculty members lost in recent years hasn't changed much, she said, "but we've got a greater number that we're trying to keep here."

"If you're a department head and you've got a variety of great faculty, you have twice as many who are being wooed and it's a lot of energy, a lot of time and a lot of money to counter these offers from other institutions," she said.

Wilson told reporters that she wasn't surprised to hear that UI faculty were being courted by Texas.

"Faculty recruitment is intensely competitive, and when you're in a department, you're looking across the landscape to see who's vulnerable. That's what you do," she said. "If you want to bring in senior faculty, you look across the country and say: Where are there places of vulnerability that we can think about in terms of having success? It's part of the marketplace assessment that all department heads and chairs and deans do all the time."

Meanwhile, the UI is about to announce what President Tim Killeen said are "top-echelon" faculty members being pursued from other universities.

Wilson said the Distinguished Faculty Recruitment Program, launched last year to recruit senior faculty from around the country, "is on the cusp of making an announcement about several high-level people that we've recruited as part of the program. The goal is to bring in 10 to 12 senior-level faculty across the three universities each year."

The three-year, $60 million effort will provide one-time grants not for salary "but for start-up funds to build labs and to create opportunities for graduate students, because if you're a tenured faculty member at a really good university, you're not going to come in and start over," Wilson said. "So we have to create the kind of context to woo great faculty."