UI has five-year hiring plan in works

UI has five-year hiring plan in works

SPRINGFIELD — The University of Illinois plans to hire hundreds of new professors over the next five years to keep pace with rising student enrollment and make up for slow faculty growth during the state's two-year budget crisis.

The university is developing an ambitious hiring program for its three campuses, though specific targets are still being developed, top administrators said Wednesday.

UI President Tim Killeen planned to announce the initiative at today's UI Board of Trustees' meeting in Springfield.

Killeen said UI leaders were conservative in their hiring during the two-year state budget impasse, which ended last year and delayed hundreds of millions of dollars in state appropriations while reducing funding for day-to-day activities. UI faculty were also targets of aggressive recruiting by other universities.

As a result, the UI saw a net gain of only 139 professors over the last five years, or about 2 percent, even as systemwide enrollment grew by 7 percent, he said. Enrollment hit nearly 84,000 students last fall, a record. Of the 139 professors, 62 were tenure-track and 77 were non-tenure-track, the latter mostly at the Chicago medical campus.

"You lose faculty every year, either from resignations or retirements. If you don't keep pace with that, then you don't really grow. And that's what's happened," Executive Vice President Barbara Wilson said.

Wilson said the three chancellors have been asked to draw up a five-year plan, consulting with provosts, deans and department heads.

"In the end, our universities rise on the quality of our students and faculty. As we grow one group, we must nourish and grow the other," Killeen said.

The enrollment growth has been especially significant at the UI Chicago, but even at the Urbana campus "we have not kept up," Wilson said.

Faculty-student ratios are a key factor in university rankings, which influence decisions of prospective students as well as faculty and staff, Killeen noted.

At the Urbana campus, the average undergraduate student-faculty ratio jumped from 16-to-1 in fall 2013 to 18.6-to-1 in fall 2017, Wilson said. In Chicago, the change was even more dramatic, from 14-to-1 to nearly 20-to-1.

How will the campus pay for the new hires? Partly through added tuition income from the enrollment growth, Wilson said. Cost controls and efficiencies over the last few years have held down expenses while revenue has grown, Killeen added.

"Each of the universities is going to continue to look at costs and figure out ways to do things a little less expensively," Wilson said. "But this is a must."

The exact cost will depend on which disciplines are targeted in the hiring program, as salaries and startup costs vary, she said.

Several years ago, former UI Chancellor Phyllis Wise proposed hiring 500 new faculty at the Urbana campus, though that wasn't a net gain, and the plan was put on hold when budget problems hit.

Wilson said the new plan might have to be adjusted if there are more "unexpected budget challenges." But she thinks the university will get legislative buy-in, adding that lawmakers were pleased with the UI's enrollment growth.

"I think legislators understand that we can't keep adding students and not add faculty," she said. "They all want to make sure students graduate on time, they can get the classes they need and they're not sitting in classrooms with hundreds of students.

"We're not talking about a huge infusion each year. We're talking about a five-year plan," she added.

Currently, the university has about 6,000 professors across the UI system, including both tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty. The number has actually risen since fall 2013, when it was 5,890, but enrollment has grown more, according to UI figures.

Wilson also said the UI hopes to soon announce some key hires through its Distinguished Faculty Program, meant to recruit star faculty from other institutions.

The plan announced today will likely focus on the assistant professor level, she said.